Noel, no faith, no fun
spiked editor Mick Hume in The Times (London).
What is the proper form of seasonal address in 2003? Merry Christmas? Season’s greetings? Happy holidays? Or how about, to rework a classic song: ‘Have Yourself a Miserable Little Xmas’? That comes closer to capturing the official spirit of the season.
For years our society seemed unsure whether Christmas should be a religious festival or a Bacchanalian knees-up. Now we have an answer: it is to be neither. Christians are no longer supposed to display religious convictions, for fear of offending others. But the rest of us are not meant to enjoy ourselves either, in case it risks public health, wealth and safety. Noël, no faith, no fun; ‘tis the season of miserabilism to all men.
After Tessa Jowell, the Culture Secretary, caused a stir by sending out cards with no mention of Christmas, her departmental spokesman explained that they had agonised over whether to ‘go down the Christmas route’ with their, er, Christmas cards, but had decided that would be ‘inappropriate’. Then a church in Buckinghamshire was banned from advertising carol services in a local library, because the Tory council insisted it cannot promote a ‘religious preference group’.
Our Labour-led council in London sent around a magazine reminding us that ‘the real festive season’ involves all manner of religious festivals. The magazine’s cover carried symbols of every celebrating religion – except Christianity. Inside it pointed out that Christmas had simply taken over the pagan festival of Saturnalia, before hastily adding that this is still celebrated ‘in some parts of the borough today’ – no doubt to avoid offending the local Pagan community.
Even to a Christmas card-carrying atheist like me, this Christophobia is nothing to celebrate. The people who come up with these strange bans are sometimes compared with the Puritans. But their petty gestures are a far cry from Cromwell’s ban on Christmas festivities. He did it out of religious conviction, believing it to be sacrilegious on such a solemn day as the birth of the Saviour. They do it because they have no convictions, religious or secular, and want to treat society like a family gathering where you avoid mentioning anything controversial.
So has Jesus lost out to the devils of indulgence in the battle for Christmas? Hardly. There is plenty of seasonal consumerism, of course, but precious little hedonism. Instead, breast-beating Christmas miserabilism infects the non-religious aspects of the holidays too.
We have been warned about the Christmas dangers of credit card debt and domestic violence, of bug-infested turkeys and killer toys, of date-rape drugs and binge drinking, of suicide and insanity. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents informs us that ‘Christmas trees, lights, trimmings and turkeys will be among the things turning seasonal merrymaking into misery and mayhem’. The charity Allergy UK adds that many are now allergic to Christmas: ‘For some people it can make life a complete misery’ – unlike all this doom-mongering, presumably. ‘Even going to the pub can be difficult as there might be peanuts on the bar.’
So you can’t go out for fear of peanuts, and can’t stay in because the turkey might get you. It is almost enough to make one echo the commander of a US military base near Southampton, ordering his 200 British civilian staff to attend the Christmas party. ‘If you feel like I am trying to force FUN upon you,’ he told them, ‘then you are correct.’
All this miserabilism suggests that a society that has long since lost faith in God is now near to giving up on humanity, too. The authorities fear that we are meek little lambs who cannot be trusted to cope with ‘offensive’ beliefs, or with the temptations of the flesh, especially at Christmas – a time which is still seen to embody ‘the hopes and fears of all the years’, except without the ‘hopes’ part.
During the festival of Saturnalia a Lord of Misrule presided and all of the conventions of the rest of the year were turned on their head. Maybe it is time to bring him back – except that the Government would issue advice for a ‘Safe Saturnalia’, and there would be calls to ban any mention of Bacchus as offensive to the anorexic, obese and alcoholic communities.
This article is republished from The Times (London)
‘Tis the season to be jolly… frightened?, by Brendan O’Neill
Christmas in denial, by Josie Appleton
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