Christmas can be a very good idea. In northern Europe it breaks into the first cold slab of winter with some warmth and good cheer. It provides a reason to remember old friends and an opportunity through gifts and cards to show them how important they are to you. Sensible regimes of being careful how much we eat and drink can temporarily be forgotten, as moderate gluttony takes over. Nostalgia- normally the enemy of progressive thinking- can be indulged in, as we recall other christmasses and the people we have shared them with. Ordinary homes can be decorated with lights and bright baubles, with a christmas tree positioned so that it can be seen inside and outside the house. And then of course there are presents to give and receive and carols to sing. All of it a very good idea, inspired by the story of a baby born in a stable.
But in this country at least, the good idea has become engulfed, overwhelmed, taken over; the simple heart of it lost in months of commercial anticipation and indoctrination.
‘Experts’ are telling us what to cook for Christmas lunch and how. In our newspaper yesterday there was a supermarket sixteen page supplement with advice on food to make or buy from the said market, inviting us to make Christmas ‘magical’. Sensational sidedishes, easy carving of the turkey, festive foliage, simple ways to lighten the load etc, all suggesting that people are totally ignorant and have unlimited money to spend and appetites to satisfy.
The same newspaper has its own supplement about the sort of games we should be playing with any children who are around, proposed by various celebrities . For weeks there have been adverts in the media suggesting the sort of presents we might buy, and we are being bombarded with programmes that will be shown on television during the Christmas break.
The previews of those programmes are being shown again and again which, far from encouraging viewers to eventually switch on to see them, is for me an invitation to switch off. How can Christmas and the few days around it, sustain such a weight of expectations? And control: I have never before felt so manipulated by entertainment and commercial pressure.
And yet the good idea, its truth and integrity, continues to shine through no amount of vested interests. ‘ O holy child of Bethlehem, Descend to us, we pray: Cast out our sin, and enter in: Be born in us today!’ (Phillips Brooks). Happy Christmas!