It’s been some year, but never forget why we celebrate Christmas

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What a year it has been: so divisive in so many places, in so many ways.

In the UK pro- and anti-Brexiteers have launched into each other, almost with no holds barred. Universities have succumbed to the snowflake phenomenon where nobody can risk being offended and pillars of the establishment, now long dead, are vilified for the way they made their money rather than applauded for what they did with it.

And in Europe? Well, France is aflame with the gilets jaune movement as finally President Macron realises that he cannot be all things to all people all the time and that the revolutionary zeal of France is never far beneath the surface.

And lurking in France and Germany are nascent right-wing parties, making inroads into the polls. To the east in Austria and the Visegrad Group of countries those groups are already flexing their muscles, curtailing liberties and freedoms under the law.

Beyond them are real and ever present terrors. Who knows where Russia really stands on anything other than a desire to destabilise its neighbours and regain its empire.

And beyond that? In Syria and Iraq the people who fought hardest to recover the countries from Isil, the Kurds, are to be sidelined and very probably assaulted by our allies, the Turks, a nation with a dictator as President. Are we to stand silently by…probably…and shamefully.

And, of course at this most special time of the year for Christians we must not forget that across vast swathes of the Muslim world Christians are persecuted for their beliefs whether by governments, local government or simply the mobs, of the kind we saw in Pakistan this year demanding the head of Asia Bibi on a platter.

And as they say what goes around comes around. In China we must not forget that thousands of Muslim Uighur citizens are being corralled in government re-education camps in a bid to inhibit terrorism.

Of course, China lacks transparency so we have no way of knowing if they are suffering Muslim terrorism or not, maybe it is just a way of exercising control. Who is to know?

Here at home thankfully most of these problems are far away and we can get on with the important business of the day – Christmas.

In this secular age it is easy to get swept up with Father Christmas or Santa Claus whilst losing sight of the origins of it all. It’s easy to do as various groups seek to undermine our Christian heritage as a nation.

You will be told that Christmas Day is merely an arrogation of the pagan solstice celebration, notwithstanding that the dates don’t match.

Never mind the facts, the important bit is that Christianity gets undermined. In fact as early as 221AD it was postulated that 25 March was the date of the immaculate conception of Christ, adding nine months for a pregnancy then gave 25th December as a putative birthday.

Well, I don’t know about you but I think that if our Queen can have an official birthday so can Jesus Christ.

So well before the end of the third century AD Christmas was established and celebrated and by 432 AD there was a Christmas Crib and midnight mass in Rome although the first use of the term Christmas – Christ Mass – does not seem to appear in Anglo-Saxon text until 1038 AD.

By then Christmas has already become a special time and a time for celebrations and even Coronations: Charlemagne as early as 800 AD and our own Edmund the Martyr in 855, culminating of course in the usurper William of Normandy’s Coronation on Christmas Day 1066.

It was Alfred the Great in the ninth century who decreed that the 12 days of Christmas should be kept as holidays in which no free man could be forced to work, (no such luxury for slaves, who, contrary to popular opinion were not invented in the West Indies or America in the 18th century).

Of course these 12 days of feasting followed 40 days of fasting during Advent. How many of us do that these days? Not me that’s for sure.

And the other Christmas traditions, they’re not Victorian inventions. As far back as Tudor times homes were decorated with holly, ivy and mistletoe, all miraculously still alive in winter and thus symbols of enduring life, although the church rather frowned on mistletoe with its pagan past, or possibly because of the custom of hanging it in balls beneath which stolen kisses could be exchanged?

A fir tree decorated with candles appears in a London street as early as the 15th century, preceding Martin Luther’s “invention” of the Christmas tree and certainly Queen Caroline of Brunswick, wife of George IV had decorated trees long before Victoria’s Prince Albert who is often credited with introducing the Christmas tree to the UK.

Present giving is probably as old as time, certainly Anglo-Saxon kings lavished gifts on their followers and by Tudor times gift giving on St Stephen’s Day was well established and by the 17th century had become “boxing day”, a day when the church alms boxes were opened and the alms distributed, a day when boxes or gifts would be given by the great and the good to servants, apprentices, tradesmen and the needy.

And there is something in that for us today, we may not have a huge number of people in absolute poverty but there are always people in want, and yes it may be their own fault, but being the architect of your own misfortune doesn’t make it easier to bear, so spare a thought, a prayer, some money for those in need whilst we tuck into our Christmas fare.

And spare a thought and a prayer for those working this Christmas and New Year so that the rest of us don’t have to. All over the country police, paramedics, doctors, nurses, firemen are on stand by to rescue us from our own foolishness, our mishaps or just our own poor health; lets try to drink sensibly, eat sensibly and drive sensibly and leave them untroubled, they really don’t need the hassle!

On which note, have a good Christmas whether religious or secular, enjoy yourself, but sensibly and take care, Merry Christmas to you all.

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