Christmas for me is simoly a justification to eat a lot of marzipan. As a non-religious chap, the personalised meaning of Christmas is purely cultural, and has no direct ‘spiritual relevance’ for me. I can imagine for those who really are Christian, and whose religiosity exists at the forefront of their lives, seeing the modern manifestation of Christmas must be horrible. Other religious groups manage to sustain the authenticity of their festivals without having the greasy fingers of commercialism smearing glittery muck all over their traditions.
Despite this borrowed gripe, which I articulate from the standpoint of a theistic Other, I think the Christmas we have is the closest thing we have to a Britishness festival, and paradoxically, this festival is secular. This is the reason why unfortunate pupils might find themselves thinking Christmas is a celebration of the miraculous birth of Santa Claus. Theoretically Christmas is about Christ; in practice, at a societal level, it just isn’t. It’s about Monty the Penguin and sitcom specials.
Christmas is a coherent ritual, and like most ritualistic practices, it is garish, wasteful and unavoidable. Haggard parents yank their screaming children around shopping centres, the children’s desiring eyes darting between every single product they land upon. Crap music is pumped out and everyone rolls their eyes whilst still tapping their feet and joining in. Everyone looks forward to party time, despite the layers of tackiness we wrap it up in, with its disgusting sprouts, crappy crackers and forced social interaction.
You can picture me now, a Godless communist moaning about everybody’s fun. But you know, come 25th December, I’ll be sat at the dining table eating turkey – the blandest of meats – surrounded by the Walker clan, all of chomping away beneath paper hats. I’ll over-eat until I nearly pass out, fulfilling my annual tradition that began when I was 8. I’ll shovel christmas cake into my face until the wee hours. We’ll watch the same awful TV programmes we complain about all year. The walls will be covered with Christmas cards from people we never actually speak to – the interactions now reduced solely to the annual exchange of glittery pictures of robins.
You know what, none of this Christmas ritual needs me to be Christian. It just so happens that the Christmas festival happens to coincide with our Britishness festival, where from Lands End to John o Groats, we can join together with family we should have seen more of all year, to eat bland food and tell cracker jokes with a groan.
The logic of Christmas, in its current manifestation in society, is roughly as indecipherable and convoluted as the meaning of Britishness. Let’s kill two birds with one stone (perhaps they are turlte-doves – chuckle-chuckle).
Let the tackiness of Christmas be the social glue of Britishness that welds us together every December. Let all children, be they of any religion or none, join together to decorate our classrooms with cruddy tinsel from the poundshop. Let all children access the traditional rituals of card-giving, binge-eating and gift exchange. Let everyone – teacher, pupil, theist, atheist – join together to sing a bit of Bing and Bowie.