John Walker's Electronic House

Christmas Can’t Get Commercial Enough

by on Dec.23, 2007, under Rants, The Rest

It’s Christmas time! That can only mean one thing: I’m going on about how annoyed I am with people’s whining about “the true meaning of Christmas being eroded”. It’s an annual event, but despite my righteous truth on the matter, the same tripe is trawled out by those poor hard-done-by, white, middle class Christians.

I’m convinced I’ve ranted about this here before, but a search can’t find any evidence. So if I’m repeating myself, well, welcome to me.

Christmas is just about the least important moment in the Christian calendar, and the more commercial it gets, the better. I LOVE that Christmas is commercial.

The second part first. Imagine if Christmas weren’t commercial. Imagine if it were as you can only imagine those flapping their wings at this time of year wish it were: Church, then lunch. Weeeeee.

Christmas is about one thing and one thing alone: presents. We can lie to ourselves and others as much as we like about it being about the Baby Jesus, but good heavens to betsy, no it’s not. It’s about getting and giving presents, and all the fun and danger that involves. Remove the presents and no one would bother with the day any more than they do Pentecost or Ash Wednesday.

Then add in the decorations in the shops. Sure, it’s annoying to see them in September, but it’s bloody brilliant to see them in December. Everywhere looks so fun and tacky, gaudy tinsel and colourful flashing lights brightening up a dreary shopping precinct. Just look at the shops in January, or your own home come the day you take the decorations down. Suddenly everything is drab and ordinary, that brief frolick with tasteless abandon a memory. All thanks to the commercial nature of Christmas. Throw in Christmas crap on the TV, the non-stop joy for children of Father Christmas/Santa Claus, the fun of reindeers and a Charlie Brown special. All and all and all because Christmas is so gloriously commercial. Amen to that. Don’t you dare ruin my Christmas with your religion.

So talking of religion – just exactly what role does Christmas play in the Christian story?

Well, one that’s of so little import that two out of four Gospels don’t even bother to mention it.

You know where Mark and John begin? With John the Baptist, and Jesus’ baptism. Because that is the beginning of the Christian story. Matthew gives Jesus’ birth a cursory paragraph, and while Luke spends a little longer describing the events, he spends about as long discussing those of Zechariah and Elizabeth, and the birth of John.

And as we all surely know by now, the Bible never mentions a donkey, a stable, lowing cattle, and certainly no three kings. (There are an unknown number of magi who visit Jesus about two years later). Sorry, nativity fans.

So these politicians, who disappear up their own ballot boxes whinging that a local predominantly Muslim school isn’t putting on a nativity play, start to look pretty damned stupid. If you’re going to fight for your faith, perhaps take a brief glance at the faith for which you think you’re fighting.

Even if you do think these events that two Gospels mention – one in passing – is of so much importance… how exactly? What are we supposed to be celebrating? According to the twenty or so tedious carols dragged out every year, we are celebrating the arrival of our Lord on Earth. But are we? What we’re celebrating is the arrival of a barely sentient bundle of organs that poos and cries (despite the protestations of Away In A Manger, I think we can assume the infant Christ cried much like regular babies). And yes, I’m not stupid – I’m aware that Christ’s existence as a human is reliant on his having been born. But I just don’t think this inevitably necessary occasion should quite be the centre-point of the Christian world. I’d say it’s a pretty minor event when compared to those that followed.

If we wish to celebrate the beginning of Christ, we should celebrate his baptism – a moment of sheer wonder, so beautifully told by Mark in his rushed, over-excited way.

And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased.’ (Mark 1: 10-11)

That is the moment of wonder that should stop every Christian in her or his tracks, drop everything and simply worship in joy. That is the distraction from the commercial, from the worldly. It’s the beginning of the Christ, of the holy spirit on Earth, of our human relationship with God.

One story is life-beginning. A crucial part of our understanding of Jesus as fully human. But the other story is life-changing, and so fundamental to Christianity.

I could more easily argue that perhaps Christians might want to focus their efforts and energy into Easter – the most crucial and transformational moment in all of Christianity. You would think that all these people who get so furious about their precious Christmas being spoilt by fun and happiness might more usefully channel it into having Easter even be noticed, beyond getting some extra chocolate.

Everyone knows that Christians stole pagan festivals for Christmas and Easter. It seems the world has reclaimed Christmas, and I think the gracious and graceful response is to accept this, and indeed embrace it. (Only Christians would make a massive fuss because too many people were celebrating their holiday). Because Christmas doesn’t matter very much, compared to so much else that I never hear these angry campaigners even allude to.

A quick side-story. I was ranting about this in Waitrose a couple of years back, to my friend Sian. “Everyone keeps yelling that we’ve forgotten the ‘true meaning of Christmas’!” I complained, probably waving my arms around in frustration. “But no one, when I ask them, can tell me what this true meaning is!” The lady behind the till looked up and said, “Well, it’s about new hope, isn’t it?” Which stopped me in my tracks. And yes, I think it is. It’s about hope. And we can hope at Christmas, while surrounded by presents and festivities and trees and huge meals and bad TV and decorations and the abundance of things that have nothing to do with Christianity.

Merry Winterval everybody!

11 Comments for this entry

  • roburky

    What if I just don’t like the existence of a festival all about trying to convince people to spend more money than they can afford to, that lasts for a quarter of the year?

    I give this rant 2/5 for only addressing christian objections to commercial christmas.

  • Smee

    I’m a pretty strong atheist, but I chose to take Religious Studies for one of my A Levels (which at my Church of England school was pretty much pure Bible Study with a bit of Christian Philosophy thrown in), and I’m glad I did for a number of reasons. One is that I realised that Christmas isn’t actually that important at all, and Easter is the date that everybody of the faith should be all fussed about, being as it’s the most important Sign, along with the entire meaning of Christianity with the whole Realised Eschatology bit (I studied Dodd). I’m with you with the silly Christmas-losing-its-meaning moaning we get each and every year; it’s worthless. I’ve always viewed Christmas purely as a time to embrace notions of family, love and togetherness, as I’m sure a great many of the population who don’t think for a minute about Jesus do as well. I don’t see anything wrong with that.

  • Rev. S Campbell

    The lady at Waitrose seems to have gotten Christmas confused with Star Wars.

  • StuWhite

    Watching the One show the other day i observed their feature tell us that we should all try to say “no!” to the commercialism of Christmas and not be swayed by big corporations attempts to make us part with our money (that i apparently can’t afford). Preparing to put another tick against reasons why the One show is rubbish, i was stopped in my tracks when, upon moving back to the studio, Adrian Chiles commented with some severity “Well, no-one will be buying you any presents”. Brilliant!

    Some of us may be galled by the apparent commercialism but the shops do have something right – it’s all about giving something (oh okay, maybe getting something in return too).

  • TediWorrier

    I’m a strong Chgristian … but not as strong as I was … arthritis does that.
    I don’t spend more than I can afford and I don’t need shops to encourage me to spend as much as I can afford.
    The anticipation of the reaction of each member of the family and friends to the gift that I selected to suit the unique individual in each is where the pleasure lies.
    ….that, and helping with 5 carol services adds up to the counter to the last week before Christmas in the surgery which is quite dreadful and promotes my theory that the telephone is a work of the devil.
    I adore Christmas … I just want an early night … I’m getting old.
    no wonder eveyone is crabby next day after Midnight Communion.

  • TediWorrier

    ooops …. how do you stop these things posting when you notice a speeling wrror?

  • bob_arctor

    I had forgetten that in deepest whitest Somerset I was Rama in Rama and Sita that we performed at Christmas at primary school, my parents say that was our nativity that year. That was over 10 years ago. Political correctness gone MAD!

  • Nick Mailer

    The true spirit of “Christmas” is and always has been essentially material, but not in a Naomi Klein Kill the Corporations way, but in a life-affirming, optimistic, generous, bounteous sort of way. As it gets darker and colder, societies became acutely aware of the material, and its precarious lack. So to have a nice, big, material feast in the bleakest part of the year is about the most life-affirming, optimistic thing one can imagine. Supermarkets and so forth allow us to do this with a cheap convenience that previous generations would have envied. That Christianity managed to get *any* attachment to this ultimately inclusive winter festival is an astonishing brand coup, so they should stop whinging when people nevertheless realise the *true* spirit of Christmas too keenly: a celebration of epicurean excess in defiance of Nature.

  • Molac Worrior

    You will find out the ‘true’ (commercial) meaning of Christmas on Wednesday morning when you open the great present that i have bought you.

  • Cindi

    Very well said, and I agree with you 100%.

  • TediWorrier

    Tom Lehrer said it all, many many years ago