The words ‘ban’ and ‘Christmas’ seem to be umbilically linked in newspaper headlines.
Anyone just scanning the front pages may get the impression that the birth of Jesus Christ is no longer seen as an appropriate cause for celebration. In some quarters it’s actually seen as downright offensive.
My mind’s eye, linked to a fecund imagination, can see boarded-up cathedrals, police cordons keeping frustrated parishioners at bay, swarms of genuflecting immigrants painting double yellow lines on every street within a mile of a church.
However, when my physical eye slides down to the text below the headlines, the sightings of my mind’s eye are disavowed. That’s not what banning Christmas means.
It means the possibility of another Covid-related lockdown that would jeopardise the deep, religious meaning of Yuletide: Christmas sales and piss-ups, aka office Christmas parties.
The unaffordable in pursuit of the unusable – millions of generally respectable Britons feel compelled to spend exorbitant sums on, mostly, rubbish. Having thus paid their dues to Mercury, the god of trade, they then switch allegiance to Bacchus, the god of wine (and, by the looks of it, also of beer, cider, vodka, gin, whisky and flaming Sambucas).
Worshippers are so devout in those Dionysian rites that afterwards they upset taxi drivers by wallowing in their own vomit on the back seat. (After Christmas parties at my ad agency, we used to send otherwise proper young ladies home in taxis, only to have to pay the drivers for the damages the next day.)
At the risk of blaspheming against the God of Christmas Sales and Piss-Ups, I wouldn’t shed a tear if Christmas were indeed banned. In that sense, that is.
Yet some Britons wish Christmas were banned in every sense. They are driven by a charitable concern for the feelings of people who worship other gods or none. Those empathetic individuals feel the pain of Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Taoists, animists, Zoroastrians and atheists who shudder with revulsion when walking past a Nativity scene or even hearing the words ‘Happy Christmas’.
To spare their brittle feelings, ideological altruists wish Happy Holidays to one another, thereby falling into a trap laid by etymology. Since ‘holiday’ is a fusion of ‘holy’ and ‘day’, those kind souls step out of the frying pan of Christ and into the fire of holiness.
May I suggest ‘Happy Break’ as a compromise solution? Just be careful not to wish that to someone who is recuperating from a broken bone or, for that matter, broken marriage.
If you think all this is yet another one of my sarcastic harangues against modernity, you are right. Except that I interpret modernity broadly, as a dystopic play under the working title of The Murder of Our Civilisation.
This play has many acts, of which the first one was the Reformation. And what do you know, reforming sticklers for biblical literalism wanted to ban Christmas too. I do mean Christmas as a religious festival, not just an occasion to spend money on trinkets and booze.
The reformers, especially the more febrile ones called Calvinists or, in England, Puritans, hated Christianity, as it had been worshipped during the previous 1,500 years. In any western context, this meant they hated Catholicism and everything as much as hinting at it.
One such hint was Christmas, with its masses and attendant pomp. The Puritans opened their Bibles and found no reference to any such festivities. And as far as they were concerned, anything that wasn’t explicitly allowed was implicitly prohibited.
That simple rule applied to icons and religious paintings the Puritans burned, religious statues they smashed and monasteries they robbed. After all, neither Testament said “thou shalt not loot monasteries.”
Christmas too smacked of idolatrous Catholicism, felt the Puritans and, having won the Civil War, their feelings mattered. Hence in 1645 Parliament replaced the Book of Common Prayer with a Directory of Public Worship. The Directory proscribed any special services at festivals, such as Christmas and Easter.
Since the Puritans also hated people having fun, they objected to Christmas festivities not only on scriptural grounds, but also on moral ones. Those crypto-Catholics drank alcohol, sang and danced – what further proof of their satanic nature was needed?
In 1647 Parliament introduced, and in 1652 reiterated, an outright ban on Christmas celebrations. Shops were to be open on Christmas day, and anyone violating the ban would be hit with a large fine.
After the 1660 restoration of sanity, that strain of Christmas-haters largely decamped for America, where it’s still going strong. Thus back in the 1970s a NASA colleague rebuked me for drinking.
“Jesus didn’t drink alcohol,” he informed me helpfully. When I muttered something about the wedding at Cana and water turned into wine, my colleague smiled indulgently.
“That was non-alcoholic wine,” he explained. “And how do you know that?” “I just know what kind of a guy Jesus was,” he said, much to my consternation. I hadn’t thought of Jesus as a ‘guy’.
In Britain, I’ve been spared this kind of disapproval of drinking or indeed Christmas. Our militant wokers go back to the next act in the aforementioned play, the Enlightenment – so called in reference to Lucifer whose name means ‘enlightener’ in Latin.
At this moment they are singing from the same hymn sheet, as it were, as our bossy government. It would confine us to quarters permanently if it could, with or without a reason, Christmas or no Christmas. Covid is a godsend for our leaders – it gives them a pretext to indulge their natural instincts.
Yet Christmas survived Cromwell and his jolly men, as I’m sure it’ll survive this lot. Birthdays are to be celebrated, no matter what.