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”

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.