Underneath the jokes and silliness (the scene where Santa Claus triumphantly rides Rudolph, comes to mind) lies an undercurrent of sorrow and regret. After all, the end of season 8 saw Danny die and Clara and the Doctor lying to one another, believing that doing so was in the other person’s best interest. Clara, who is more shocked by the appearance of the Doctor, than with the appearance of Santa Claus and his elves on her roof, tells the Doctor that she never thought she would see him again. In fact when he first appears she does not utter a word and simply stares at him in shock. And as the TARDIS starts up she remarks,
Clara: Oh that noise. I never knew how much I loved it.
Clara and the Doctor together again, facing a new and confusing danger. Before the Doctor showed up, Clara was grieving her double loss. She lost Danny, the person she loves and the person she lied to on a consistent basis, taking for granted that he would always be at home waiting for her to return from her adventures. And she lost the Doctor and with him the possibilities of exploring new worlds and encountering strange creatures. She was alone in her grief. The life she knew with the Doctor was over and the life she had with Danny along with the future she planned to have with him was nothing more than a dream. But the Doctor coming back into her life represented not only the possibility of a new beginning but also serves as a connection to her past, the past she wants so badly to return to. It makes sense that when the Doctor asks her about her beliefs in Santa Claus that she would answer in the affirmative:
Doctor: There’s something you have to ask yourself and it’s important. Your life may depend on it, everybody’s life. Do you really believe in Santa clause?
Clara: Do you know what? Yeah. Right now…yeah I think I do.
Santa Claus represents a fantasy and the fulfillment of deeply cherished wishes. Clara’s reaction to the Doctor’s sudden return is reminiscent of a child on Christmas morning getting the one gift that he/she was pinning and hoping for. And when Clara later learns that this is a dream and that what is happening is not real, her voice registers the disappointment.
But despite the cheerful and perplexing beginning to the episode, we are quickly reminded that Clara is still grieving. Clara, frightened, confused, and perhaps a bit excited at the dangerous situation she and the Doctor have just landed in, quickly becomes awash in anger, regret, and guilt when the Doctor, in an attempt to protect her from the dream crabs mentions Danny and states that he is probably flirting and texting other women. She slaps the Doctor, not simply because no woman would want to hear that said about a loved one, but because she knew that Danny was dead and he was never coming back.
Doctor: I was only…
Clara: Danny Pink is dead.
Doctor: No he’s not.
Clara: He’s dead.
Her grief over Danny’s death remains palpable. In one scene as Clara desperately attempts to stop thinking about the dream crab that is slowly making its way towards her, she sits on the floor, expressing her remorse and guilt over how she treated Danny:
Clara: Danny…Danny… Danny pink, I love you. I know I’ll never see you again and I’m sorry. I’m sorry I lied. I’m sorry.
In the next moment, she is transported into a world where Danny Pink is still alive and where she gets to spend Christmas with him. The happiness in her face is evident and when the Doctor comes to inform her that she is not only dreaming but dying, she doesn’t want to leave. She would rather continue dreaming than go back to a reality without Danny. In fact, it’s not the Doctor who convinces her to wake up-but Danny. Clara, in her subconscious knows, that Danny would want her to get on with her life. He would want her to live.
For many Christians, Christmas, at least theologically speaking, is a celebratory holiday. Christmas celebrates the story of the incarnation (whether one believes it to be a “literal, historical event” or a metaphor)-of God becoming flesh, of God coming into our messy, broken, world through the form of a helpless baby. The incarnation tells the story of God breaking into our world, to protest violence and injustice, and to bring healing to a broken world. Christmas is viewed as a day of hope, yet it is also a day of suffering, pain and death. Being human means confronting finitude and death. The celebration of new life is always paired with the knowledge that all life eventually ends
Some people this year are reeling from the fact that Christmas 2013, was the last holiday they would spend with a loved one and that this year their loved one’s presence is reduced to a memory, an empty table or bed. Others are struggling with the fact that this Christmas might very well be the last one they have with their loved one, as they witness family members or friends struggle with illnesses and failing health etc. And yet for others, we don’t know what the future holds-our loved ones are healthy, (or appear so) and there is no reason to suspect that next year’s Christmas will be any different from this year’s. Yet all it takes is a couple of minutes for life to be uprooted. Neither Danny nor Clara ever imagined that he would be killed in a car accident. They never imagined that in the minutes between the last words he uttered and Clara’s brief pause as she waited for him to respond, that he would be killed.
Likewise, every day, somewhere in the world, family members and friends are coming to terms with a loved one’s unexpected death. A car accident, a fast moving illness, a fall, a suicide, events which seem to come out of nowhere and irrevocably change the lives of those left behind. I imagine that the family and friends of those on flight Air Asia QZ8501, never expected that a routine, short flight would bring their world crashing down. Yes there have been two incidents earlier in the year with Malaysian airlines, yet the chances of such an incident occurring in the first place is astronomical, and for it to happen again within the same year strikes one as impossible. It’s the stuff of movies, but not something that happens in this day and age. Millions of planes take off and land safely throughout the world multiple times a day. This particular air craft had completed over 13,000 successful flights before embarking on this one. Yet the family and friends of Air Asia QZ8501 are facing hours and days (hopefully no more than that) of uncertainty. The life that they were enjoying just a few days ago has irrevocably been changed and as the hours drag into days the chances of finding their loved ones alive decreases. I imagine their mind goes back to the last conversation, the last time they spoke with a loved one.
It is easy to see why Clara didn’t want to wake up. Waking up meant going back to a reality where Danny no longer exists but staying in the dream world would ultimately cause her death. In a similar way so many Christians seem to be caught in their own version of a dream world-they embrace a theological worldview that states that if they only pray hard enough, or go to church enough, or act “good” enough that everything will turn out ok. The pains and bruises of life won’t hurt them. Or they embrace a sentimentalized version of the incarnation-one with cute baby animals, an adorable baby Jesus, and a remarkably clean and relaxed Mary. All traces of pain and suffering are neatly left out of the commercialized representation of Jesus’ birth. Others hold on to the idea of an afterlife. I am not saying that an afterlife does or does not exist, I don’t know. However, there are some who focus so much on the possibility of an afterlife that they forget to live in the here and now. They hold on desperately to a notion of heaven that will provide them with a second chance to see their loved ones or to make amends. Living in the real world requires an acknowledgment of the messiness of life.
Yet, in the midst of the undercurrents of sorrow and grief in the episode, hope is also embraced. In some cases, second chances are possible. Danny was gone, Clara was going to spend the rest of her life without his physical presence. But yet she and the Doctor do get a second chance. They get to start again.
Doctor: We should do this every Christmas;
Clara: Because every Christmas is last Christmas.
Doctor: I’m sorry. I was stupid. I should have come back earlier. I wish that I had.
Santa: Doctor, how much do you wish that?
The Doctor thought he waited too long to go help Clara. He believed that 62 years had passed and he arrived to find Clara older, frailer, and dying. He very well may have been saying goodbye to her. And of course he regrets it. He grieves the adventures they never had, the years he missed. But in this case, the Doctor and Clara are still under the influence of the dream crabs, meaning that he still has time to save her before it is too late. He still has time to go on adventures with her while she is young and able.
Clara: Well look at you all happy. That’s rare.
Doctor: You know what’s rarer? Second chances. I never get a second chance, so what happened this time? I don’t even know who to thank.
There is a fine line between having hope and getting lost in a fantasy world of wishful thinking. In fact, it’s not always easy to tell the difference. I wish a checklist existed that one can consult that will let one know, “ok you are acting out of hope,” or “you need a reality check.” But like most things in life, hope isn’t that easy to define. But there is one major difference between hope and living in a dream world: hope takes pain, suffering and death seriously. It does not seek to present a sanitized and pristine version of life, but it takes into account the sorrow and grief that encompasses life. Yet hope states that one will not be destroyed by death and anguish.
Hope confronts the reality of death yet it also holds on to the idea that life is meaningful. It grieves the loss of a loved one while also cherishing the time and moments that were shared. Hope looks at the incarnation story and refuses to sanitize it, it recognizes that Jesus came into the world as we all do-through a process that is painful (for the mother) and messy, yet it recognizes the beauty in that moment. Hope recognizes that Jesus’ life would be one of anguish and trouble, but that good would come out of all the betrayal, persecution, and violence Jesus would suffer.