I like Christmas, but I don’t know why


I always tell myself I like Christmas, but the older I get, the harder it is to pinpoint why.

I think it’s 90% nostalgia. Memories of big, sparkly 1990s Christmasses, primary school discos, Wham! and Paul McCartney, relatives since disintegrated, communities since dispersed.

Present-day Yule is nothing like that. And my mounting cynicism and deepening politicisation have gradually knocked the baubles off what’s left.

When I was a kid, I loved the presents. Then I turned into a hardcore anti-consumerist. After that, I liked it for the food. Then I went environmental vegetarian (and developed a stomach condition that makes me feel sick whenever I eat anything that isn’t lentil and vegetable mush, but that’s a hypochondriac odyssey in of itself). Continue reading “I like Christmas, but I don’t know why”

Why I bother (a very merry Radically Atheist Christmas)

For a teetotal halfway-to-vegetarian rejecter of all things consumerist, I actually quite like Christmas

On a good day, my strange lifestyle is a semi-successful attempt to boycott the worst bits of ecocidal consumer capitalism. And at this time of year, more people than usual ask me why I bother.

That’s probably because more people than usual notice it. Normally very much off the radar as far as most people I know are concerned, at Christmas the whole political extremist thing surfaces in polite society like a hippy-communist submarine – “how’s the Christmas shopping going?” “I don’t do any”, et cetera.

So. Why am I so cynical/miserable/judgemental/extreme/anti-fun/generally intent on making life more difficult for myself than it needs to be? Continue reading “Why I bother (a very merry Radically Atheist Christmas)”

Bem Bulletin #2: Glittery Festive Special – Austerity, Porn and Gordon Brown

Occupy Christmas
Occupy Christmas

This month: we finally finished a trilogy of bits about our travels in the Czech Republic, Communism as-was and capitalism as-is that we started in 2012; we got angry at how society lionises business and fawns over the richest, as typified by the BBC’s The Apprentice, and how it neglects, belittles and abuses NHS personnel; and we contrasted the way in which modern parents dote almost obsessively on their offspring, while doing, thinking, or, apparently, caring very little about the climate catastrophe that might rob them of a future.

… And, music-wise: funky Nigerian afrobeat from Fela Kuti, and banal ‘50s country and western.

Deck the halls with boughs of holly, it’s Christmas time, and the Bemolution is communicating with you from its fairylit inner sanctum, swimming in tinsel and shovelling grotesque quantities of chocolate log down itself.

We don’t celebrate birthdays (exceptions made for young children or the impressively old), or like ceremony in general, but we officially do quite like Christmas. Not enough to suspend our miserablist current affairs-prodding, of course. But it at least encourages people to squeeze a trickle of festive goodwill to the rest of the species from their neoliberalised granite-hearts, and stop trying to compete each other into the dust long enough to eat their own bodyweight in turkey and Brussels sprouts.

Anyway – to business.

In this month’s Bem Bulletin

1. George Osborne’s Autumn Statement

1 and a bit. … And Sociopaths in power

2. Porn Censorship and the Tyranny of the Vanilla

3. The Life and Times of Gordon Brown

4. Jim Murphy, Neil Findlay, Scottish Labour

5. Obligatory Christmas Commercialisation Whinge Continue reading “Bem Bulletin #2: Glittery Festive Special – Austerity, Porn and Gordon Brown”

Hairy Christmess

Not the Bem grotto
Not the Bem grotto

The Bemolution dislikes mostly everything about the modern world, but surprisingly for a trenchantly miserablist, atheist, socialist blog-based phenomenon, quite likes this time of year for the mince pies and the twinkly ambience. Crumb-flecked and tastelessly smothered in fairy-lights, huddled by a fan heater and listening to ‘Last Christmas’ on repeat, it wiles December away with nary a ‘Bah, humbug’.

But, to a shrinking but transcendentally passionate slice of society, Christmas isn’t about pies and turkey dinners, it’s about Jesus. And as Christians across the land gear up for JC’s two-thousand and thirteenth birthday bash, while millions and millions of others prepare for a day where they won’t think about him once, the glaring void at the centre of Christmas becomes increasingly unavoidable.

Of course, neoliberal consumer-capitalism has purged Christmas of anything remotely meaningful, let alone subversive. It has turned it into an excuse for billions to wastefully blow trillions on things they don’t really need, because that’s what it does to practically everything. In doing so, it’s only continuing a process of wilful distortion that predates hedge funds and the Republican Party by centuries.

Historical evidence strongly points towards the existence of a human being called Jesus. Whether he did all the lovely things the Bible claims or not doesn’t really matter. The example set by the religious account of him is very clear – our hirsute superhero attended to the sick and the needy, befriended lepers, prostitutes and assorted ne’er do wells, shunned the nuclear family in favour of altruistic devotion and preached social justice, pacifism and the redistribution of wealth.

In short, Jesus stood for the polar opposite of the prim and proper Jam-and-Jerusalem authoritarian chauvinism that the C-word has become indelibly linked with today. But early on in Christian history, a venal clerical elite seized control of that legacy. Tragically, the resulting religion quickly hardened into a crusty vested interest and spent the next thousand-odd years striving to subvert its founder’s core messages.

Given that huge numbers of Christians cheerily ignore the radical implications of what their messiah supposedly said and stood for, it’s dizzyingly unlikely that the millions who blankly chew their way through the hollow consumption end of Christmas might bear Jesus’s egalitarian and anti-establishment messages in mind while sitting down to the Strictly Festive Special.

Bearded lefty Rowan Williams
Bearded lefty Rowan Williams

The Great Creator probably doesn’t exist, and the Jesus his devotees idolise is probably fictional. But that shouldn’t stop non-god-bothering leftists from remembering that some of Christ’s core messages are virtually identical to their own. Dawkins-mould evangelical atheism, that casts all religious belief as evil and fights an unwinnable Canute-like battle to completely rid the world of it, just alienates the progressive open-minded Christians that do hold true to those core beliefs.

This Christmas, in the UK, 300,000 more people are in fuel poverty than this time last year. 400,000 are going into their second consecutive festive season out of work, and being subjected to ever more humiliating tests and invasions of privacy to get jobseeker’s allowance. Millions will have struggled and scrimped and saved to afford Christmas, as the cost of living rises and wages don’t, and thousands will have accrued shattering levels of debt trying to make ends meet.

And then there are the millions more in forgotten parts of the world who are starving and dying and living in despair, for whom not even never having had to endure Do They Know It’s Christmas provides any consolation from their daily suffering. Whether you think Jesus was the blazingly virtuous son of God or a rabble-rousing carpenter whose divine characteristics were made up by later generations of believers, the values that are traditionally attributed to him – generosity, selflessness, compassion, equity and others – are exactly those desperately in need of a resurgence if we’re ever going to grope our way towards a more just, humane, equitable world.