It’s almost Christmas. You know, that end-of-year festival that is given pride of place in the western countries most of us live in.
It’s the festival I grew up with: a house decorated with lights and sparkles; green and red, (okay, in those days it was more multicoloured hues); a tree that smells of sap and drops needles all over the floor; a stocking for Santa to fill with bits and bobs and sweets; presents under the tree from the extended family; chocolates, dates, candied fruit and fizzy pop laid out in our own version of an all-you-can-eat buffet; and roast, stuffed turkey with two types of potato, carrots and brussels sprouts, sausages wrapped in bacon, and followed by Christmas pudding.
We called it ‘Christmas’, but there wasn’t much of Christ in it, (apart from being dragged to church when my grandmother came to stay). There was, however, a feeling of warmth and light in the middle of a cold, dark period, a coming together of loved ones and an air of ‘goodwill to all’, and a promise of good days to come. In short, it was more of a winter solstice celebration.
And these are the traditions I want to pass on to my children. So why do I feel, deep down, that I have more explaining to do? Why do I find it ever harder to get into the Christmas spirit (the non-alcoholic kind, that is)?
For sure, I was brought up a Christian. And even if I hadn’t been, it was a time when Christianity was much more present in our everyday lives than today. Children didn’t ask who Jesus was because they knew, and some of what I feel comes from the realisation that this is not the case now. I want my kids to understand the world they live in, to know what they are singing about when they intone Away in the Manger or Il est né le divin enfant.
But I guess that I also want them to understand the controversy that now surrounds this ancient feast. I want them to know that having a Christmas tree, and even calling it Christmas, does not mean we are Christians; that many of the traditions we have, have no root in Christianity at all.
And I also want them to know that you can subscribe to another religion or belief system and still have a Christmas tree. And that if you don’t, you might celebrate another type of winter festival: a festival with light and warmth, that brings together family and encourages us to think of others less fortunate than ourselves, that also carries traditions of feasting and gift-giving.
In short, I am sick of the way this end-of-the-year celebration is used to polarise society into “those who are with us” and “those who are not”. I am sick of the ignorant who (purport to) believe that the Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus, Buddhists, atheists, animists etc., who are our neighbours and co-workers, “don’t celebrate Christmas”. I am sick of the do-gooders who fan the flames of racism by removing Christmas trees from public places to “be more inclusive”. And I am weighed down by this responsibility to be the one who corrects the distorted vision of the world my children receive through osmosis.
But I will fight the good fight because, Christian or not, I believe in peace on earth and goodwill to all.