Father Christmas? — ‘Ye-e-s. How may I serve you?’ — Well, we were wondering…. We have an online discussion every day on various subjects, and we thought if you have time in your off-season, we might ask you to be honorary host of a question-and-answer session on summer. A ‘summer Q&A,’ as it were.
‘Well, of course,’ Father Christmas chuckled, a right jolly old elf, and I laughed when I heard him in spite of myself.
(Paraphrase on ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas, the 1822 Christmas classic by Clement C. Moore.)
‘Yes, of course,’ he said again, ‘I’d be honored. But you’re not going to introduce me as “Father Christmas” in July! Tell you what: Introduce me as “Father Summer,” and we’ll do it. I’ll wear one of my green Christmas coats from the 1800s.’
And so it came to pass — and our first question is from L.M. in Leeds.
Question: Yes, thank you. L.M., Leeds. May I ask you, Father Christmas: ‘He was dressed all in fur from his head to his foot / And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot’ — but his clothes were red, not green. Red coat, red hat. If you don’t mind my asking, Father Christmas, where did you get that green Santa coat you’re wearing for this online summertime question-and-answer session?
Father Summer: Well, if you look back at some of the old weeklies from the 1860s — Harper’s Illustrated Weekly from 1866, for example — you see on those pages, for the first time, Santa making toys, along with other Christmas chores — and in those days, Father Christmas always wore a green coat. After 1880, a few pictures began to show a red coat — and then, after the introduction of Coca-Cola into the U.K. in the 1930s, most pictures showed a red coat. So I had some of these old green coats in the closet. Another question, please.
Question: Yes, thank you. R.B., Washington, D.C. I was trying to meet an attractive person sitting on a bench one summer evening — yesterday, actually — and I casually walked up to her, stopped a few feet away, smiled, and said, ‘Hi, how are you doing?’ And she looked at me like I was some kind of creep. I mean —
Father Summer: No, no, you’re absolutely right to put it that way. You can’t walk up to a stranger and say, ‘How are you?’ And you can’t say, ‘How’s it going?’ And you can’t say, ‘How’re you doing?’
And the reason you can’t say those things is, they aren’t sincere. They aren’t genuine conversation — they aren’t even genuine greetings. ‘How are you this evening?’ said in passing is good etiquette. But to walk up to a stranger for no apparent reason, stop and stand there, and begin speaking by saying ‘How are you this evening?’ is no good.
Try the same approach again — it may not be the same person, of course — but this time, make every word the truth: ‘Excuse me’ (because you are intruding on her — or his — solitude). ‘You are so attractive’ (which is the real reason you are speaking to her or him.) ‘Would you allow me to introduce myself?’ (Pause — and if the person looks you in the eye, and continues to keep eye contact with you, you have her or his permission to continue speaking, even if the person doesn’t reply with a spoken ‘yes’ or ‘no’). Another question.
Question: Yes, T.N.N., Harrogate. But, to stay with that example — if the person you’re speaking to breaks eye contact, looks away, mumbles something, maybe even mumbles ‘yes, it’s okay,’ but you suddenly wish you hadn’t got yourself into this —
Father Summer: Indeed. Let me suggest a general rule for any difficulty you or the other person may create, no matter how awkward. Turn to the rules of etiquette. The rules of etiquette exist for one reason only: To tell us how to behave, and what to say, when we might not otherwise know. Look over the rules of etiquette. Be ready to say the kinds of things good etiquette would have you say. In this case:
‘You are so attractive’ (a compliment is usually good etiquette) ‘but, well, maybe I should apologize for interrupting you, and just say good evening.’
Since you are going to leave because of her hesitation, you owe it to her (or him) to smile, be kindly, be warm in what you do and say — but then turn and leave, slowly but firmly.
The rules of etiquette allow you to say goodbye to someone without explaining yourself. You can say goodbye to someone politely, and are under no obligation to remain and ‘patch things up.’ If she or he calls you back and you don’t want to return, pause, smile, raise your hand in a clear wave of departure, and continue to walk away.
Question: H., London. As much fun as summer is — it’s warm, it’s light out until 9 or 10 at night, we can go swimming, there’s fun in the air — would we also say it’s the prettiest season of the year, with its flowers and sailboats and clouds in a blue sky?
Father Summer: Let me quote from John Donne: ‘No Spring, nor Summer beauty hath such grace, as I have seen in one Autumnal face.’ — John Donne, 1572-1631, Elegies, No. 9, The Autumnal.
Here’s an interesting lesson in how to describe things. You have a good list of what we like about summer in your question: It’s warm, it’s light until 9 or 10 at night, we can go swimming, and so on.
But the way to answer a particular detailed question about summer — or about most anything else, for that matter — is to go outside the thing you’re talking about, to something different, something opposite. Is summer the most beautiful of the seasons? We can list a hundred things we like about summer — but then the poet, in a single sentence, shows us that ‘nothing in all of spring or summer has the beauty and grace of a single autumn day.’
Summer is the season that is the most fun, perhaps — but not the most beautiful of the four seasons.
Question: C.O., London. If you were going to name a girl for this lovely time of the year —
Father Summer: May I volunteer one of my preferences, speaking as Santa, a ‘professional’ who knows every name there is, and whether they’ve been ‘naughty or nice’ — may I say that a name inspired by a single cultural icon — and summertime is such an icon — is a strong name. And usually an interesting name.
‘Summer MacKenzie.’ ‘Rose MacKenzie.’ ‘Sunny MacKenzie?’ ‘Sunny’ lacks the weight of ‘Summer,’ and is much lighter than ‘Rose.’ ‘Lea.’ Lea means meadow in Norwegian, and as an English name, has a ‘sunny openness,’ if you like.
Summer, especially in the cooler climates, is an invitation to be outdoors, an invitation to openness, friendliness, perhaps; you know, Google searches, when they are added up by researchers, show that the word ‘depression’ appears most often (1) in the coldest countries, and (2) in the coldest months of the year — January and February. A telling finding.