May I start by wishing all the readers on my own blog or the ten other sites to which I now contribute (going to eleven in January), a very Merry Christmas and – of course – a prosperous New Year. But what does Christmas mean to you? I have no idea. I know what it means to me and my family. For starters it is not just a holiday it is Christmas. I am simply not having a happy holiday or sending season’s greetings. Whatever your own personal views on religion you are getting a few days off work because you live in a Christian country and Jesus was born on Christmas Day. Get used to it and stop pretending otherwise.
Actually it is extremely unlikely that Jesus was born on 25th December, in 0 AD, in Bethlehem or in a manger. But that is another matter.
My family is religious. My step mother is a lay preacher and my father an enthusiastic member of the Shipston church although possibly the worst singer in Warwickshire. I was brought up to attend church and know the bible well enough. But try as hard as I can, and occasionally I have tried, I have never been a person of faith. I just cannot believe. I am not hostile. I leave that to my eleven year old daughter Olivia who has grown up with a mother who has a real hatred for the Church. Olivia is thus a proud Islington atheist. And thus three generations bring three views.
For my parents, the ceremony the celebration of the birth of Christ is the centre of the Advent and the 12 day of Christmas. Christmas day is just one of those 37 days. But it is the main day and it is accompanied by endless family get togethers, present and card swapping and ( especially for my father) over-eating. Those aspects of excess and family which most folks celebrate are laid on top of belief.
For Olivia the event is a time when folks forget their frustrations and forgive others and just try to be happy and friendly without any religious connotation. It is a happy view of Christmas. Albeit a God free one. As a child one can have such a view before life gets more complicated.
For me there are the rituals. I make my own Christmas pudding in November as my mother did. I cook the bird wherever I am. I always attend midnight mass. It is such a joyful service despite being simple. I enjoy belting out traditional carols. I am not sure those standing near to me are so happy about this but it is Christmas. They can forgive. I look forward to a day soon when I can, as my parents did, use a Christmas Tree which spends just 12 nights a year indoors and then is put back in its normal location in the garden. I decorate any tree with baubles I have picked up from around the world.
But as you get older Christmas can also bring back other memories. The Christmas spent I spent alone when Olivia’s mother decided to trade me in for her graduate trainee – that was not fun. A favourite uncle who died at Christmas. These sorts of memories can come back as you work out how many hours the goose is meant to cook for.
But there are delights. Seeing others open presents you really thought about. Seeing them smile and appreciate that you might have actually thought about what you bought. A Christmas ring around of nearest and dearest after everyone has opened their presents ( we are a post Queen’s Speech sort of family). So it is a day of mixed feelings. It is not a day when I regret my lack of faith, that tends to happen at other times. It is a day to enjoy for the day, without looking back. Then it is a few days to recover and it is time to start looking forward. 2013 beckons.
Merry Christmas once again.