I’m not a Christian, In fact I don’t subscribe to any “religion”; I like the idea of religion, that is to say religion fascinates me but I couldn’t in all honesty say that I “believe” in any of the manifestations of “God” or other gods and goddesses..
Years ago I had a book, the New Larousse Encyclopaedia Of Mythology. I spent many happy hours reading this book and often went back to it as circumstance dictated. Part of the foreword reads:
“Here, in all their wonder and splendour, are the Mythologies of Mankind, from pre-biblical Egypt and pre-Homeric Greece to the farthest researches of Africa, the Orient, the Pacific and the Americas…”
The one thing that annoyed me though about this book was that it had nothing to say about Christianity which I held to be just as much “mythology” as any of the other theologies and doctrines described in the book.
I suppose technically, I might be a Christian, I was baptised at a very early age, I went to Sunday school, I attended a Church of England primary school. The baptism thing was, I think, more to do with peer pressure on my parents and Sunday school naturally followed on from that, not that I recall having a big say in this progression but we had colouring books and the odd sing-song. There were also stamps as I recall, It was a long time ago so it’s a bit sketchy now but there were stamps depicting events in the Bible that we somehow gained each week and then stuck them into a book of some sort.
Going to a Church of England school didn’t mean that you had to have a strong Christian faith which is just as well really because I was only five years old and which toddler had any sort of faith in the Holy Trinity? We did sing hymns at morning assembly and we were hauled off to the Church periodically.
As a pupil at Victoria Church of England Primary School I was eventually promoted to the dizzying heights of being a “Bourne Scholar”. Named in honour of Thomas Bourne Esq. of Camberwell whose sister lived in Berkhamsted, and who upon his death in 1729, bequeathed £8,000 to “build and endow a charity school in the town”. The Bourne School.
Many years later, what was then the Victoria Church of England Boys’ School was built to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee , a girls school was built adjacent to the boys several years later, and the pupils from The Bourne School were moved to Victoria, the two schools eventually becoming a single co-educational or mixed sex (if you prefer) school.
The Scholarship back in those days was just that, an assisted places program for a select number of pupils but by the time I was elected to those ranks it was more like being a school prefect, there were 10 of us as I recall, 5 boys and 5 girls. We were all presented with a badge of office to wear, a bible and a prayer book all of which I still have. I remember the chap handing-out the badges and books said something to us along the lines of; “In years to come I hope to see these books well-thumbed…” needless to say, mine are still pristine in their presentation boxes. So I suppose what I’m saying here is that I’m not a Christian.
I do however love Christmas; it’s possibly not the most wonderful time of the year, the weather can be a bit crap, and the long hours of darkness at 51.7 degrees north can sometimes be a hindrance to the levity of the mood, but I do love Christmas. I can only put it down to happy childhood memories but whatever it was, it’s lasted to this day.
When I was in my mid to late twenties I went through a phase when I had come to the conclusion that as I was evidently not a Christian I wouldn’t celebrate “Christmas”. I wanted all the paraphernalia of Christmas; a tree, lights, decorations, festive food etc. but I didn’t want to call it “Christmas”. I made my own greeting cards; “Season’s Greetings”, “Happy Solstice”, “Solstice Greetings”, “Merry Yuletide” and so on; after all, there are a wealth of ancient festivals and practices all connected with this time of the year which have nothing to do with “Christmas” but which have been subjugated by the Christians. All that stuff about evergreens, holly and ivy, mistletoe, wassailing, the Yule log, hanging wreaths and decorating trees, all these things pre-date Christian rituals.
This phase lasted quite a while but then I got to thinking, what am I doing? Christmas is just a time of the year. Okay, to Christians it’s obviously not just a time of the year but to me it’s a time of the year that happens to be called Christmas. I felt that I was being a little disingenuous, as I wrote earlier, I love Christmas so why was I purposely eschewing it or its name at least?
And so I started calling Christmas, Christmas again and I do this without the slightest belief in the little baby Jesus as the son of God and I feel no duplicity or paradox. We have days of the week and months of the year named after various gods and goddesses that nobody worships (to any great degree) anymore and nobody that I’m aware of goes out of their way not to call that day between Tuesday and Thursday, Wednesday for fear of offending somebody who doesn’t worship Woden. Did that make sense?
It dawned upon me that if we don’t call this time of the year” Christmas” then Christmas will most likely disappear like all the rituals and observances that it sought to replace and the relentless tide of new, upstart religions will sweep away the sugar-frosted pillar-box robins and rosy cheeked Santas and replace them with something totally out of character and more in keeping (Inn Keeping, see what I did there?) with other latitudes. So I celebrate Christmas, not as a celebration of the birth of the son of God but as a time of remembrance for family and friendship. I send Christmas cards, I eat Christmas dinner and Christmas cake.
And here’s the thing; for me, Christmas with its chocolate box imagery, snow covered landscapes, reindeer, pine trees and so on is a northern latitude, European thing. Most of the rituals that go to make-up Christmas (Christ child excepted) all had their origins in northern latitudes. Six years ago I was in Australia, it was the end of November, almost the middle of summer and the Christmas decorations were going up – it was all very surreal. I’m not suggesting that antipodean Christians shouldn’t celebrate the birth of their Lord and saviour but maybe they should do it in a southern hemisphere way.
Leave the snow and Father Christmas, Père Noël, Święty Mikołaj, Sinnterklaas, Ded Moroz, call him what you will, to us northern hemisphere Euro folk above around 30 degrees north. I suppose the fact that “Christmas” traditions, unconnected purely with Jesus Christ, have travelled around the world and into the southern hemisphere is testament to something enduring in the whole “Christmas” thing.
It’s also interesting to note how European culture views the central tenet of Christmas; look at most of the Nativity scene paintings and, with the exception of Balthazar, there are a bunch of suspiciously European looking people gathered around and adoring that chubby little child. Even in later life he looks suspiciously like a rock muso from the 1970s, but enough of Easter and its attendant eggs.
This particular Christmas has been slightly tarnished by the fact that I have succumbed to some nasty virus which has filled my head with snot and deprived me of much of my appetite for the good food and ale which had been procured for the festive season; ah well, it’s not as if I couldn’t stand to lose a little weight and the beer will be drunk eventually.
I love Christmas.