“Is Mary dead?” asks Thomas through a mouthful of teatime fish finger.
“What?” I say, startled. “Mary in your class? No!” My mind starts racing. She can’t have. I would have heard if there’d been an accident or if she’d fallen ill. I start mentally composing the WhatsApp message that will subtly check what’s going on.
“No,” he sighs impatiently, spewing orange breadcrumbs – why DO I keep feeding him this crap? Oh, yeah, both of us in three-quarter time work and no childcare – “Mary-the-mother-of-Jesus.”
My husband walks in as Thomas is speaking. He turns on his heel and walks straight back out again. I glare futilely at his retreating back.
“Yes,” I say reluctantly. “She is.”
“Because she lived a long time ago.”
“Oh. Is Jesus dead, too?”
“Well,” I say after a pause in which I think a variety of very un-Christian thoughts about the husband whom I can see sinking even further into the recesses of the armchair in the sitting room. “That’s sort of a tricky question.”
“Because… because Jesus did die, but –“
“When he was a baby?”
“No, later on, when he was a grown up. About 33, I think.”
“Oh. OK. So, he did die, but… what?”
“Well… the people who believe in Jesus say that then he came alive again.”
“Does that happen a lot?”
“Not a lot, no.”
“Why did it happen to Jesus, then?”
“Because the… the… the story says that he was the son of God. So, the normal rules didn’t wholly apply.”
But Mrs Sumpter says the Christmas story is a special story. What’s special about it?
“It means that normally, if you’re just an ordinary person, you die once and that’s it. But if you’re a little bit made of God, then you can come back to life after you die. Just for a while.”
“And then what happens?”
“Uh, you tidy up a few loose ends and then you go up to heaven to be with God.”
“That’s what the story says?”
“But Mrs Sumpter says the Christmas story is a special story. What’s special about it?”
“Well – it’s a story people – some people – believe.”
“What do they believe?”
“Would you like another fish finger?”
“Yes. What do they believe?”
“When you’ve finished that, shall we play Guess Who?”
“Yes. What do they believe?”
Thomas is a child rarely deflected from his original goal. I sigh.
“People who believe in God believe that Jesus was his son and – as you already know – Mary was his mother.”
“And Joseph was his daddy on earth,” says Thomas, nodding intelligently. “Mrs Sumpter says it was easier that way.”
“I’m sure she’s right. And, at Christmas, people celebrate God’s son being born because that’s a very rare, special thing and we all try and be extra kind and thoughtful to everyone because these are good things to do and we all need a reminder to do them every year.”
“And there are presents, too.”
“But they’re from Father Christmas.”
“Will he ever die?”
“I’ve got to wash up now,” I say firmly. “Run and ask Daddy. Don’t stop until you’re completely happy with the answer.”
Merry Christmas, I think, everyone.