29 December 2021

Tolkien's Love of Christmas

Tolkien, of course, is best remembered as the author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, but he was a prolific writer of both prose and poetry. 

From Voyage Comics

By Joseph Tuttle

The world was blind, the boughs were bent,
All ways and paths were wild:
Then the veil of cloud apart was rent,
And here was born a Child.

(From Tolkien’s Poem “Noel”)

The Christmas season is one of great joy and happiness. It calls us to remember that Jesus Christ came into this world in order to save man from their sins. Every year we turn to reading the classical literature that surrounds Christmas, most famously Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. There is, however, another book that should also be recommended by one of the greatest writers of the twentieth century: Letters From Father Christmas by J.R.R. Tolkien.

The Letters From Father Christmas are a series of letters written by J.R.R. Tolkien to his children from 1920-1943. In Tolkien’s description of Nicholas Christmas, better known as Father Christmas, he lives at Cliff House at the Top of the World near the North Pole. Tolkien reminds his children through a letter from Father Christmas that he is named after St. Nicholas, “…who used to give secret presents, sometimes throwing money through the window.” (Letters From Father Christmas, 39.) This shows that Tolkien was trying to remind his children of who “Santa Claus” is supposed to be or who he is actually named after. In our secular society, many think Santa is just some jolly fat man who likes to give gifts but do not realize his saintly roots.

Father Christmas is assisted throughout the letters by his bumbling yet loyal companion the Great Polar Bear. In fact, many of the letters’ content is describing the hilarious mishaps made by the Great Polar Bear. Paksu and Volkotukka, the nephews of the Great Polar Bear, follow their uncle’s example and cause much mischief. He is also assisted by his ever helpful and trusted Elves especially Ilbereth, his secretary. The Man on the Moon (also from Tolkien’s children’s tale Roverandom) makes a few appearances to visit Father Christmas as well.

Throughout the letters, Father Christmas gradually reveals the different adventures he has at the North Pole. By far, the highlight of the adventures of Father Christmas is that of the war with the Goblins. In November of 1930, the North Polar Bear suddenly went missing. Father Christmas found him lost in a nearby cave system being taunted by Goblins. Eventually, the Goblins stole many of the gifts that Father Christmas was going to give that year. Father Christmas with the help of the Red Gnomes, capture many Goblins and make them return the stolen gifts. But this was not the end of their troubles. The Goblins returned in 1933 and attacked them in full force. Eventually, Father Christmas, with the help of the North Polar Bear, his Elves, and the Red Gnomes, defeated the Goblins and Christmas was able to take place as normal.

Tolkien, being a philologist, even came up with an alphabet for the Goblin language! The Great Polar Bear also mentions the language they speak at the North Pole: “Arktik.” Unfortunately, this language is never really expounded upon by Tolkien. The Father Christmas letters illustrate at their core, a father’s love for his children. Indeed, not a single letter is written without Tolkien adding at the end “Love, Father Christmas” or “Your loving Father Christmas.” The Letters From Father Christmas can be enjoyed by all ages and Tolkien lovers, with his typical humor, stories, and beautiful art.

The Christmas season was very near and dear to Tolkien. He always remembered that Christmas was not about materialism as our modern world often thinks it is. In a letter to his son Michael, Tolkien said “Well here comes Christmas! That astonishing thing that no ‘commercialism’ can in fact defile – unless you let it.” (The Letters of Tolkien, no. 243, p. 323) Christmas is about the coming of the Saviour into the world in order to save man from his errors and not about getting or giving gifts.

Tolkien even wrote a beautiful poem entitled “Noel.” It was originally written in 1936 and is about the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Christ Child. The final few lines of the poem get to the heart and meaning of Christmas:

Glad is the world and fair this night
With stars about its head,
And the hall is filled with laughter and light,
And fires are burning red.
The bells of Paradise now ring
With bells of Christendom,
And Gloria, Gloria we will sing
That God on earth is come.

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