As you visit ‘Histor-C’ this month, virtual snow falls on your screen. All of a sudden, the cold snap & frost that the UK has been experiencing feels appropriate. As I type, I’m wolfing down today’s piece of the Advent Calendar. That’s right, it’s Christmas once again.
I do like Christmas, although I may give off a different impression. There are lots of things I don’t like about Christmas. A lot of the traditions bother me. Christmas cards for one, are a waste of time. The choosing of this year’s style, the compiling of the list, the writing, the delivering (both by hand and by mail) are just all too tedious for me. If I want to wish you a Merry Christmas, then I will. I find decorating a bit of a chore too. If you buy a real tree, then your house will be a mess. Even if you avoid that nightmare, you have to decorate in some manner- from tinsel to tealights, it’s another job that has to be done. Carols can bother me too- some of them bang on about donkeys, bells and people going “i-o, i-o, i-o”- what!?! Then there’s Christmas shopping. Why do we, even in this digital age, willingly put ourselves into that boiling pot of retail madness? How can we even work out what we buy for everyone? I can’t stand wondering around shops thinking “what can I get for XX?”- it’s just hideous.
There is however, plenty I do like about Christmas. I mean, I’m sure my opinion of Cromwell would be all the more negative if I actually lived during the period where he banned Christmas. I love the social time, I love the food, I love the positivity that surrounds many people. It’s a magical time. From the Christmas truce of World War One to the coronation of Charlemagne, from the birth of Sir Isaac Newton and the resignation of Mikhail Gorbachev to the first test of the internet- special things have happened. We largely have Queen Victoria to thank for the modern day festivities, and her marriage to the German-born Prince Albert.
But there’s something about Christmas today that really bothers me. Christmas is an anniversary- a central part of our calendar each year. Admittedly, it’s very unlikely that Jesus was born on December 25th (the date was first officially set aside in the year 352). But when we commemorate Remembrance Sunday, we remember those who gave their lives. When Americans celebrate Independence Day, they don’t just eat the food, they remember how they’re country first began. Yet why we celebrate Christmas seems forgotten. I acknowledge my bias in this, but I think the point is valid all the same. A friend told me of how primary students in her school, writing to people in Israel, wanted to wish them a Merry Christmas. They didn’t understand why that made no sense. When prompted, they couldn’t explain what Christmas was about. In a world where there’s “Winter Wonderlands” and “winter festivals”, where nativity scenes and plays can be banned, it’s really no wonder.
We say in history that we study the past so we don’t repeat it’s mistakes. We study history to make sure we remember the heritage of this world. Considering Jesus was a historical person, and regardless of your beliefs on his significance, that he led a pretty remarkable life with a lot of consequences for today’s world, I find it sad that this Christmastime can be a memory without meaning.
So as Advent counts down the days to the biggest day of the year, I wish you a Merry, meaningful, Christmas.