The Times We Lived In: The triumph of innocence

Published: December 19th, 1997. Photograph: Frank Miller

The worst of it, surely, is over.

The weeks – or was it months? – of frenzied shops and crazy traffic. The braindeadening cheesy muzak and the nerve-tingling attempts to get parked anywhere within an ass’s roar of where you want to go. The lists which, no matter how many items get ticked off, never seem to totally disappear. The serial torture of television perfume ads.

As long ago as 1890, Christmas was described by one George Bernard Shaw as "an atrocious institution". So if you find it all a pretty false affair, you're not the Grinch, Scrooge and a grumpy old vegetarian rolled into one. You're just a normal person.

Still, though. Once the fridge is stuffed to the gills, and the final guilt-ridden return card is sneaked into the post, and the shops (at last) close for the holidays, there is a moment of dazed silence as the falsity falls away.

And after that, a different side of Christmas – which has to do with the birth of a child, and the hope that it might be possible to start over and maybe even make a half-decent job of it this time, no matter how grim the sociopolitical situation outside the stable door – can creep out of the shadows and into the light.

All the elements of the “atrocious institution” are in place in today’s photograph. The cheap plastic toy with its fake candle. Hints, in the blurred background, of the multi-coloured seasonal madness. The ghastly gavotte of obligatory red and green.

But the picture isn’t about all that. It’s about the triumph of innocence in spite of all that.

The caption tells us that the boy is 10-month-old Nathan Slattery from Blackhall Place in Dublin, "getting to grips with a toy Santa while shopping on Henry Street".

The absorption of his expression. The little sprout of downy fuzz at the back of his head. The smile on his mother’s face as she watches him, neatly inverting the song lyric which goes “I saw Mummy kissing Santa Claus”.

It’s a simple photograph. These are simple things. Catch them, put them in your pocket, hold on to them for a couple of days, and our time here will have been well spent.