Friday, December 15, 2006

Tis the season to be jolly...

…or not if you happen to be in that tiny band of bible-punchers and their Tory friends who are raging at the apparent disrespect shown to the Prince of Peace at the time of his supposed birth. A Tory columnist in the Daily Telegraph threatens to trash any greetings card that omits the word “Christmas” while the Daily Mail and the Sun have been banging on about employers who have banned Christmas decorations and councils, invariably Labour or Liberal Democrat, that have sought to rename the winter holiday “luminos” or “winterval” for fear of offending other religious minorities.
The focus for these latter-day religious reformers is the “Campaign Against Political Correctness” which claims to be defending traditional British values, whatever that means, against its wholesale assault by hordes of Muslims, liberals, atheists and other enemies under the bed during the season of good will.
Now that all the media pundits are joining in the fun it appears that most of these scare-stories are grossly exaggerated or simply urban myths. But the real point is that the “traditional” British Christmas has very little to do with Christianity and the fact is, it never had.
Exchanging gifts and cards, dancing round the mistletoe, gorging oneself on turkey and drinking oneself silly has nothing to do with Jesus’ teachings – a fact our Puritan forebears knew when they sought to ban all merry-making on Christmas Day.Nobody knows when Jesus of Nazareth was born, least of all the early Christians who never celebrated their founder’s birth, preferring to uphold the day of his crucifixion, which has never been in doubt. The early Christian theologian, Origen, condemned “Christmas” as an idea worthy of a Pharaoh, contending that only sinners, not saints, celebrated their birthdays – a principle upheld by some Christian sects even today.
Christmas is a pagan festival to mark the winter solstice that was known as Saturnalia in Roman times or Yule-tide by our Anglo-Saxon ancestors, while 25th December was sacred to Mithras, the Persian deity adored by many in the Roman legions. It may have been marked by solemn rituals but it was also accompanied by orgies of feasting and indulgence, when slaves became masters for the day and all rules were overturned.
The early Christian Fathers, who realised there was no point in trying to compete with the Invincible Sun God on his own day, simply appropriated it for their own Master and the celebrations continued under the blessings of the Church.
And why not? Most workers in Britain now get paid leave for one or two weeks over the Christmas and New Year breaks. For one brief moment in the year they can put their feet up, enjoy themselves and live the way the rich live every day of their parasitical existence. Unfortunately we pay for it when the decorations come down and the relentless pile of bills mounts up in January, while the rich carry on as if nothing has happened.
These “re-born” Tory fundamentalists would be laughable if they weren’t so hypocritical. Public holidays and statutory leave entitlements are not gifts from benevolent bosses. They were wrung from the necks of grudging employers over the years by the unions.
Nor are these Tory pundits well-suited for the role of religious reformers. If they were they should campaign for the return of the Sunday laws that the Tories abolished in the 1990s, which would not only restore the “Lord’s Day” but guarantee workers a fixed day of rest and ensure that those who have to work on Sunday get double-time-plus for doing it. Now that really would be something to celebrate.