Saturday, December 18, 2010

'Tis the Season

Well, here I am, sitting at my computer and for the first time in months I have absolutely nothing to do; at least, there are no work-related tasks requiring my immediate attention. It really is that most wonderful time of the year.

So Jesus then, or the general gist of the story I have learned over the years:
  • Casting aside all supernatural aspects for one moment (which is not to say that these things did not happen), we have the story of a young woman who found that she was pregnant outside of 'wedlock'. Her public acknowledgement of this (with or without visits from angels) is impressive and suggests a possible explanation for why Jesus was born a revolutionary / Messiah, depending on your belief system. However, in retrospect it is no giant leap of the imagination to recall all the indications of childhood that led to the assassination of a man who spoke out against the dominant, toxic culture. Had Karl Marx (has anyone else noticed he looked like Santa Claus?) been as successful in spreading the word, would we be reading stories of angel visitations to mill workers, or anecdotes of Karl's adolescent tantrums against the capitalist machine? 
  • Travelling across deserts for months with a cargo of gold is, in any era, a dangerous venture. Hence the wise men (kings, government officials, regals from neighbouring nations) would have been most unwise to travel as a three and, being top-notch gents, would undoubtedly have had an entourage of hairy, scary men at their sides. Nonetheless the gifts were clearly a ploy so as not to get caught doing Herod's dirty work. Well done Christianity, for inventing a tradition that even the free market could embrace, although giving gifts to others is in of itself an admirable act.
  • Jesus wasn't born on a snowy winter's night long, long ago, where snow had fallen on snow ad infinitum. In fact, the likelihood of snow in Bethlehem is directly related to whether they intend to release a sequel to 'The Day After Tomorrow', or the sudden onset of the next ice age; in other words, not very likely at all. Thus we can conclude from this that he was born.
  • Shepherds tending their flocks at night, if visited by a host of angels, are going to be spending a considerable amount of time relocating the terrified creatures who would have legged it at the first sign of danger. Assuming that they then manage to regain a modicum of normal function, they might well have thought the whole story was worth investigating and headed on up to Bethlehem for a gander.
I could start getting petty here, about the absence of facts, the contradictions (what did Jesus and his family do with the gold? They were poor.) and the bits that have been bastardised to suit the not-so-virtuous requirements of various religious groups. However, there is much more to be said against what we have done to Christmas since: Coca Cola's annual advertisement spectacular, getting the best act to turn on the lights, delivery schedules, 3 cases of beer for under £20 and so on with the endless list of meaninglessness. Christmas is not about fizzy drinks, alcoholic or otherwise. It's possibly not a whole lot to do with Jesus Christ in its current form of decorated trees, feasts and so on, although the name says otherwise.

Jesus was a very special individual who was prepared to risk his life for his values. He was killed at a relatively young age, yet his influence over those who knew him persisted after his death and continues to do so to this day. There is no issue to be had with any of the things he had to say, for he lectured about equality, compassion, understanding, love, generosity and practiced as he preached. Here we are focusing on life, not death, and this is as it should be. Recovery from bereavement comes from returning to the memories of those we have lost, not from dwelling on the loss itself.

Ignore all the consumer trappings of the season and we are left with something of true beauty, a time when we actually do show compassion and understanding and everything else that Jesus talked about. Even the legend of Santa Claus tells of a person who also gave selflessly to others - altruism brings its own rewards. Whether it's a true story or not, it is a credit to our imagination that we can invest in it and pass it on to our children. Every tradition that has contributed to our contemporary understanding of Christmas intensifies its value. Our desire for / tolerance of snow on Christmas day is perhaps due to its capacity to cast a blanket of purity over the ugliness of modern life.

For all these reasons, Christmas is good.

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