For many years there was that hiatus; that gap between a hankering-after and remembrance of a time when there was a ‘Christmas Spirit’ in the air at Christmastime; and now in these recent years that hankering-after and remembrance is hardly ever referred to anywhere anymore. Nowadays we celebrate Midwinter Break, and all the Advent Calendars portray if one is lucky , Santa and his reindeer; if one is unlucky, Coca Cola and MacDonald’s and Disney.
Early this year there was a minor press scuffle about a leading chocolate maker dropping the word ‘Easter’ from the package labelling of its ‘creme-eggs’.
There’s that motif in US films; Ghostbusters; Elf; to name two – in which Christmas threatens ‘not to happen’ in some way because of what The Bible calls ‘the hardness of hearts’ – in these two movies in the people of New York. Of course, the situation coming from Tinseltown itself, the people of New York find just enough ‘spirit’ to lift that sleigh or to lay that demon – always there are happy-endings in children’s movies.
I heard middle aged women lamenting to shopkeepers and to fellow shoppers at a bus stop about how it ‘just doesn’t feel like Christmas’ anymore; and some others considering and saying ‘well, Christmas – it’s for the children, isn’t it’. (Nearly always with this insinuating ‘isn’t it’ as a finale, as perhaps trying to get the person being told ‘it’s for the children’ to agree with the point of view. And maybe in this way by adding ‘isn’t it?’ asking for help to expunge a late-lingering sense of unease about their rejection and disposal of Christmas in the heart.
Men are less delicate and brusquely advance on Christmastime; they storm its domain without remorse or mercy; their childish delight in beers and revels overtakes any sense of delicacy about their mentally consigning Christmas to the bin of history.
You see, these innocents, I mean this, innocents, believe themselves that they are now free; free from those dreadful dreary and sometimes lowering obligations and reprimands which religion – at school – and once upon a time on TV and Radio – and also by a number of parents too – had loaded down their naturally buoyant and delightsome minds. As if one might just wish God away; and then there’s no comeback for anything anymore.
These innocents I’d say have never heard the phrase ‘God is dead’; but they have been so led and mustered along by many who might well have heard that phrase; these being also in some measure likewise innocents; and merely following the leader Disney-style. These knowing ones are those who have been steeped in, and have atrophied within, an intellectual foment which celebrated and yet celebrates that Nietzschean phrase. These knowers also celebrate those other and antecedent abrading phrases which allowed it to have been first thought and expressed, and they also celebrate those other phrases arisen since that time, and which have owed their birth to that Nietzschean phrase.
Very few of us are original thinkers. I don’t claim to be so. Similarly very few of us examine the genesis and lineal descent of ideas and how they enter into and grab hold of the cultural milieus of our societies. I try to be aware. Maybe most people are content with what they are given, what they have, in regard to what makes them think the way they think. They just go along with what seems right in the papers and the media; not because they’re lazy or incapable; but most often simply because they have been let down by their educators, including their parents.
Since our State educational aims are clearly stated by most schools to be to make ‘good citizens’ and ‘pupils fit for employment’, to ‘socialise’ children and so make them ‘contributory’ to society; this means that like the seven dwarves the children end up ‘following – The Times – leader’; which is to say they become inducted into the present state of things, bag and baggage. Thus they are taught on brushing up on and taking a shine to this present state of things; its latest fads and fashions, feelings and fancies, and so go gliding smoothly onto the soap sofas and into the boozy bars, pubs and clubs; to enjoy the sports (on TV though – on the pitch or the track? – God forbid!).
Perhaps there’s a few pony rides on sexual orientations and gender confrontations; on some positive discrimination for broken bodies or for ‘other’ peoples; and of course never let the name of Jesus Christ be heard without due reservations and caveats, and some politic tempering down of any claims to exclusiveness he might be thought to have. And don’t forget the ‘other’ religions; they must have their say; it’s not right to hog the limelight Jesus, because its offensive to grandstand.
In this way we have all religions and none; all (except our own back yard Christianity) tolerated; but by those apostates who would be most tolerant, the least religion is done or espoused.
Politically we are on hot bricks because of the extremist threat from those who kill in the name of holiness; we are having to be ultra cautious not to offend, to keep the peace; to allow space for ordinary law-abiding believers to take part in society and not to tar them with the same brush – all this is understandable, even laudable, but yet our own heritage (speaking as a white Briton) we flush down the drain willingly and with some relish and aplomb. Is it any wonder when jaundiced extremists see this happening and we going happily along with it and gladly forwarding it without a care or a thought; is it any wonder that they see us as a people without a rudder, a people happy to ‘eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die’?
Those peoples fortunate enough to possess a robust religion and who practice it regularly at home and in their places of worship; religion as part of the household, the staple of everyday life; they have a rudder, they preserve and cherish their heritages as they ought to; as we ought to; and they love their faiths, as we should do also. But we are a fragmented and a petty people, many of us in the streets failing to acknowledge the presence of fellow human being milling around us; we go wall-eyed on a bee-line for what we want regardless; in our vehicles, in our shopping trips walking or whatever; it is as if sometimes many persons are a walking land of alien individuals, none recognising their common human element subsisting between them.
Indeed we Brits have come so far down the road from living a real life and into a path where fantasies and fictions are more real for many of us. The hard facts of what is going on in the world around us ‘do not compute’ with us; it seems to us perhaps that our bubbles which keep us safe and prosperous will not, cannot ever be, burst. It’s not that they ought to burst or that it would be a good thing were they to burst; but we being ignorant of their fragility and of their need for constant care and attention; for a constant looking to the other person in need to offer the them help and assistance, and also the hand of friendship. We remain unaware that we are not able to take for granted these great benefits we are so very blessed to be in possession of; not without certainly losing them. We are our own worst enemies, and moreover we turn peoples against us because we like sleepwalkers blank them in their need.
We who have so much of the material goods and services of life that we swallow the camel of ‘God is dead’ and strain at the gnat of sharing even what we have in great surplus. This is because we have no Christmastime, it is because we have Midwinter Break instead. It is because we have jettisoned as being ‘inconvenient’ any talk or conscionable thought for or of God. Our spiritual lives are bewildered. We have so much material prosperity that we have strangled our better natures with its wastrel excesses. We have so little spirituality; not enough to raise a sleigh or to lay a demon in a corny children’s movie.
Now again ‘spirituality’ is not as many of us think it is – it is not singing hymns and looking down one’s nose at drunks and mothers with scruffy screaming children; or feeling righteous or somehow walking on a cushion of air whatever. ‘Spirituality’ is hard work; it is facing up to truth and bearing as one is able to bear one’s own part in how things are come to be as they are. It’s about solid hard work and constant heavy lifting. It’s not glamorous nor is it clean and glorious – a person who tries to make a spiritual difference is often on a road to facing derision and being walked over and scoffed at and taken-wrongly and just being looked upon as a ‘nutter’. But there’s the pity. There’s the very reason for making such an effort, for trying to do something to release the potential of the people around and about who can only bring to bear these stock and misguided responses to one who is attempting being a worker in the vineyard of life.
Our Christmas break is hailed by apologists for its demise as being a ‘Pagan celebration of the turning of the Winter Solstice’, and they in this way are thinking to substitute an age old tradition in the stead of Christmas; like those who would be Druids and do rituals at various standing stones and so forth, claiming for themselves a pre-Christian spirituality that goes back as far as 1968 when Woolworth’s first began to stock incense and smelly candles.
There’s a whole lot of palaver goes on, sometimes even in the name of the Lord Jesus; but the faith is pretty clear and plain and doesn’t neeed censers and avalanches of ritual and liturgy. It just needs people to try to be better than they are now, and to keep on trying to do better each day of one’s life. The measure of better is – what did I do for my friend, for my neighbour, for the persons I saw to be in need today? There’ s no marks, no scores, no brownie points; it is the reasonable service of a good and faithful servant; nothing more – as if you should get a bonus for doing no more than you expected to, and no more than you were expected to.
As for Christmas Spirit, it’s here all around us everywhere everyday – like a barrel of good wine you only have to tap into it – but unlike a barrel of good wine it never runs dry and there is always enough for those who come. Our world is God’s glitterball, mostly crystalline, a crystal ball. The stars are indentations in the skies of sparks; the material representation of the angelic hordes of Heaven. They pin-cushion the night skies like the bright beads of steel pins. The fields and the trees and hedgerows are the glorious gaudies of God. Men and women, from time to time, and at their best, astound others of us with their sudden flashes of unassailable generous inviolability; when they take a blow full-on – moneywise or maybe in a brutal scuffle – for the sake of and in the stead of another, sometimes even in the stead of an unknown other.
The girl with the rose for the militiaman’s rifle barrel. Gandhi’s pacific protest walking to the sea. The woman who would not give up her bus seat to the white guy. The guys at Sun Records who were beautifully colourblind. The woman on London Bridge who took a death wound for her partner.
Faith Hope Love – all three – but the greatest of these is love.