A heart-felt wish for the best of Christmases to my reader, whoever, whatever and wherever s/he is. And, while I’m about it, a Happy New Year too.
Christmas is still a special time in Britain, whatever you may read about the efforts of the so-called ‘politically-correct’ brigade. There are, so it is said, public authorities and businesses that ban Christmas decorations on the grounds that such fripperies and baubles could offend non-Christians. For the same reason, apparently, it is the policy of these sensitive souls to substitute traditional Christmas salutations with something anaemic - ‘Happy Winter’, possibly. The irony of sending a Christmas card bereft of any Christmas message or iconography amuses me no end. I have no first-hand experience of this form of bigotry, though if it is promoted by any publicly-funded body I would have something pithy to say about people who work for me wasting my money.
The erosion of freedom of speech in the United Kingdom is genuinely worrying, but you do wonder if accounts of sterilised Christmas traditions have been exaggerated, or even manufactured, by right-wing journalists and politicians who are equally as bonkers as their PC counter-parts. Even so, some of the things you hear are so bizarre they could be true. Nor would it appear that Britain stands alone; rumours of politically-correct ‘winter celebrations’ drift across the Pond. The Roosevelt Field Mall (shopping centre) in Long Island has been heavily criticised for putting Santa Claus in a glacial theme, rather than the usual holiday village. Starbucks, already in trouble in the UK for not paying taxes, has allegedly selected a non-Christmas festive design (whatever that means) for its mugs and instructed its servers (known, for some reason, as ‘baristas’) not to wish its customers ‘Merry Christmas’ in case anyone gets upset. Oh dear.
I often hear people grumble about Christmas, but I’ve never actually heard anyone say they are offended by it – except for its over-commercialisation. Apart from occasionally (very) nasty tribal squabbles between Catholic and Protestant, the UK has a pretty good record of religious tolerance in recent centuries. We need to keep it that way. People of good heart – whatever their particular beliefs - would surely find it inconceivable not to respect public displays of faith as has been customary for many hundreds of years?
But Britain is decidedly secular in character and a recent report suggested that Christianity has declined to such an extent that its contribution to public life needs to be diluted. However, being a practising Christian is not a prerequisite for believing in Christmas, whilst a religiously-neutral Christmas is obviously a contradiction in terms. The roots of Christ’s Mass lie in mid-winter religious celebrations enjoyed long before Christianity reached these islands, and our modern Christmas includes traditions that would be alien to early Christians. So what the detractors of Christmas are saying is not simply that people may be upset by Christianity, but by the traditions themselves. In other words, it is the culture that might cause offence. Oh dear (again).
Well, Christmas is part of Britain's culture and heritage. The culture is full of imperfections and others are available, but this one is mine. If it’s yours too, and bearing in mind this is the season of peace and goodwill, I urge you to immediately go out and offend someone. Do it today by holding Christmas in any way you want. Sing carols, put up your Christmas tree, exchange presents, remember the Nativity, go to church, pray, burn the Yule log, eat well, see those you love – and so on.
If Christmas is not part of your culture – have a happy Christmas anyway, enjoy the holiday if you get one and I wish you peace and prosperity for the coming year.
One of the characteristics of British Christmas in recent years has been somewhat of a competition between larger retailers over who has the best TV advert. My current personal favourite is the offering from the supermarket chain, Sainsbury’s, featuring the antics of a hapless cat, Mog. Mog’s Christmas Calamity is hilarious – though it has a slightly twee ending and I’m puzzled that this creature eats boiled eggs. Egg Mog? Be that as it may – take a peek at it on YouTube – last time I checked, it had 25+million hits. If it offends anyone, I’m truly sorry. Really.
I want to thank anyone who has popped into A Bit About Britain and stayed to read anything, particularly if they have left a complimentary comment. It tickles me that people come back – even the anonymous ones (we know who some of you are) – and that A Bit About Britain is read in so many places around the world. Apologies for not saying thank you, or visiting other blogs, as often as I would like. See you again in 2016.