Wednesday, November 29, 2006


Yuletide Revival

Well, there's no getting away from it, Christmas is well and truly on its way, in all its mawkish glory, and the usual whingeing on about putting Christ back into Christmas is as loud as ever.

Not that he was there in the first place, of course, Yuletide celebrations having been going on for quite some time before the god squad got their sweaty paws on them. I can't tell you how amused I was to read in the National Secular Society pamphlet, Our Pagan Christmas, that all that stuff about the virgin birth, the manger, the shepherds, the wise men and so on was blatantly nicked from all the other religions knocking about at the time. That alone was worth the price of the pamphlet.

Of course, in the strictest sense, the christians are right. Christmas, as in 'Christ's Mass', is the celebration of the birth of Jesus. But, despite the fact that that's what I've called it all my life, Christmas is not what I celebrate on the 25th of December each year.

Sure, I decorate my front door with a wreath made from holly leaves and berries from the garden, but that's an ancient pagan way of celebrating the continuity of life, using evergreen plants. I drag a tree indoors too and hang baubles on it, but that's another tradition involving an evergreen that has very little to do with the nativity, and anyway, it only became popular after Queen Victoria stuck one outside Windsor castle in 1841, at the behest of her new husband. Oh, and I make mince pies. But as far as I can gather, apart from turning up at this time of year for centuries, there's nothing to link them specifically with Jesus' birth either. Christmas pudding, on the other hand, does have at least a passing aquaintance with religion — 'stir-up Sunday' having its provenance in The Book Of Common Prayer, but I've never been that keen on it anyway.

It's fair to say, then, that apart from a few early years during which my gran dragged me to Sunday school where I was made to sing Away In A Manger until I was hoarse, the baby Jesus hasn’t been any more of a presence at my mid-winter celebrations than the Persian god Mithra. Strikes me that given that I don't believe in either him or his dad, inviting him to join me and my family for Crimble these days would be as hypocritical as me getting married in a church, having my kids christened or sending them to the local faith school.

To say that I celebrate Christmas would be as accurate as saying I celebrate Saturnalia. Come to think of it, though, Saturnalia would probably be a much more appropriate name for the orgy of consumerism and gluttony that goes on each year around this time, as I'm sure some of you more pious christians out there might agree.

Of course, it's very fashionable among christians at the moment to bleat on about persecution, and the Royal Mail dumping the Christmas story off the festive stamps this year in favour of more secular imagery is being held up as proof of the fact that poor old christians are about to be banned from practising their religion and burned at the stake if they try. Setting aside the fact that historically when it comes to persecution christians wrote the book, a quick trawl through that book might enlighten today's whingers about what persecution really is. And if you want more contemporary examples of what it looks like, how about what's happening to the women of Afghanistan, or the general population in Zimbabwe or Somalia?

I'm sorry, but being told that you must abide by the law of the land and stop discriminating against homosexuals, and having to lick stamps with snowmen on instead of angels might add up to an affront, but persecution it ain't.

No, what this is all about is the fact that christians hate the thought of not being the big boss at this time of year. They can't stand the fact that there are people out there who might have other ideas abut how to run a yuletide celebration. As church attendance dwindles, the thought of losing the privileged position at the centre of public life that they have held for centuries is galling, to say the least. They might pay lip service to values of tolerance and equality, but deep down, they think that their religion is the right religion, that they are the chosen people and that everyone else is wrong. If they didn't, they wouldn't be so terrified of loosening their grip on public life — no matter that the disestablishment of the Church of England is the only thing that would lead to true equality. They won't even let poor deluded old Prince Charles change one word in his coronation address, for goodness' sake.

So, apart from the fact that it might be genuinely upsetting, not to say confusing, for some of the older generation when the local primary school kids turn up at the nursing home to sing a selection of 'winter songs' instead of Christmas carols, I don't give a toss what anyone chooses to call Christmas. If Christmas is what you want to call it — fine. If it isn't, that's fine too, and if British life as we know it is going to collapse just because a few local councils float the idea of using slightly more inclusive language to describe an international cultural event which means many different things to many different people, then it certainly isn't the tolerant place I thought I was living in. And frankly, anything that gets up the noses of those reactionary old (and young) tossers at the Daily Mail is fine by me.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006


Christmas gift inspiration?

Been a little preoccupied to get much blogging done of late, but some things just can't be ignored.

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