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By Richard Hollis (aka Ritchie)

The most magical Christmas I can remember happened when I was, maybe, 12 or 13.

It had certainly been many years since I had believed in Santa, and in all honesty I don’t actually remember ever sincerely believing in him at all. Maybe it was something to do with not having an open fireplace, or my parents being terrible liars, or perhaps my older brother had something to do with it. Or perhaps, as I am inclined to suspect, a child’s belief in Santa is less genuine than we adults care to imagine. A game of make-believe is practically second nature to a child, and if they get presents at the end, I’m sure they’ll happily play along with anything.

But in any case, presents still were the icing on the cake of Christmas. But this one particular year, something absolutely unprecedented happened – both my brother and I actually slept right through the night and were woken up by our shocked and bewildered parents on Christmas morning! For the first time we had not been motivated enough to arm ourselves with torches, books, puzzles and coffee (yes, coffee) in a bid to evade our wily sentinel parents and raid the Christmas tree for presents. One year we even oiled squeaky door hinges! There have been bank heists planned with less military precision.

This particular morning, however, the whole family sat in the living room together and shared presents. We didn’t greedily claim them like pirate bullion, but shared them, and took an active interest in what everyone had bought each other. We had bought and given these gift because we love each other, and had taken the time, effort and expense to do it. And I can distinctly remember thinking it was the best Christmas morning I’d ever had – Christmas without Santa really is somehow more magical.

I’m not saying I won’t tell stories of Father Christmas to my own children, should I have any. I probably will. But, crucially, I would also expect them to grow out of that belief in time. Learning to think, to reason, and to interact with others in an adult way is an essential part of growing up. Stories and make-believe games may help them to learn these lessons, or be a crutch until they have, but eventually these intellectual stabilizers need to come off.

It would be another ten (ish) years before I let go of my belief in God. And yet the feeling when I finally did so was hauntingly familiar. A world in which humans alone have been responsible for our greatest works of art, acts of altruism and acts of love really is, I believe, more magical than one in which these gifts are were dispensed from above like some temperamental cosmic cash machine.

Contrary to the belief of those who will, I am sure, find this incomprehensible, belief in God, like a belief in Santa, needs to be laid aside to truly appreciate the other people around us. He is simply a barrier to a life more magical.

And don’t even get me started on Rudolph!

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