Thursday, November 26, 2009

Xmas-rated

I read a disgusting blog post today. It was written by a leading Christian.

This particular influential Christian works a lot with students and I've followed him off and on over the years. He has some interesting and thoughtful things to say - what's more, years back he led one of my closest friends to faith. I rate him pretty highly.

But his blog horrified me.

Here's how it started:

Christmas is more than just buying presents, filling up on Turkey and tinsel. Christmas is all about the birth of Jesus. But so that you can focus on the real meaning of Christmas...

Nothing too shocking about that, you might think, but I confess I inwardly sighed as I read even these words. I get tired of the well-meaning but futile 'back to the original meaning of Christmas' line. Why? Not least because the original meaning is in fact a pagan midwinter festival. Christians only hijacked the feast around about the time of the fourth century around the time of the highly ambiguous 'conversion' of the Emperor, Constantine. (Hey presto! A status-quo-challenging, marginal movement morphed into a mainstream imperial power-structure. Historians debate the pros and cons. I'm very inclined to see it as something like a disaster.)

And so it concerns me when I see well-meaning and otherwise serious and deep-thinking Christians swept along by the Yuletidal wave which is the modern and hugely commercialised descendant of a pagan knees-up, or at best a fatally compromised Christianity.

But I realise the pagan-Christian-historical question may seem a bit remote to many. Besides, many Christians would say, 'Face the facts: people are into Christmas, and we may as well use it as an opportunity to broadcast the Christian message of Christ's coming'.

Not so fast. It's one thing if Christmas is just neutral - like art, for instance, something that can be an influence in many directions.

But I contend that Christmas is not neutral. It is immoral. Would you use pornography to promote Christ? I suspect not. Because Christians would generally see that as immoral and wouldn't want Christ to be sullied by association.

Christmas is immoral because it is the absolute epitome of the greedy, consumerist, pleasure-loving, unjust, Western system that is driving many of the world's population deeper into poverty, and many of its own into psychosis.

To link Christ's name with the festival of all this is nothing short of blasphemy.

And this brings me onto the real beef I had with the blog post. Remember where it left off? 'But so that you can focus on the real meaning of Christmas...'? You might expect that what follows would be some creative ideas for worship on 25th December. Or maybe some Christian outreach ideas. Better still, suggestions for how you can engage with the poor or destitute, or use one of the many excellent charitable 'alternative gifts' schemes.

Sadly, no. Cue the next bit of the blog:

But so that you can focus on the real meaning of Christmas I have done some searching online to find the best ideas I can for great christmas [sic] presents that will stand the test of time and keep the kids amused until next Christmas.

What follows? 2,569 words of product advertising. Books, board games, gadgets (everything from mobile phones to Wii to camcorders).

This apparently, is 'so you can focus on the real meaning of Christmas'.

I would like to think that this was a clever and prophetic indictment of the orgy of materialism that sweeps the western world each Christmas. But it just wasn't. He simply took for granted that Christmas was a time to shower one's children with more material possessions they don't need, to force feed them the spirit of the materialistic, consumerism-maddened culture which surrounds us. So he was just doing us a favour by helping us avoid the stress of choosing precisely what unecessary rubbish we should join the queues to purchase.

What's more, two and a half thousands plus words of crazed commercialism aren't enough: the writer cheerily informs us at the end of the post that there are 'More ideas coming soon…'

No thank you. No - please - no.

Because behind the merry-go-round, the Christmas whirl is making many sick. And a highly-informed, leading-edge, blogging Christian communicator should know about it.

An online poll by the mental health charity Mind found that respondents were stressed and anxious about repaying their Christmas spending. 19 per cent felt less able to manage their mental health because of worries about paying off the cost of Christmas; 25 per cent were feeling depressed because of Christmas; Over 50 per cent admitted they had spent more than they could afford on Christmas; 39 per cent used credit cards to cover the cost of Christmas; 33 per cent estimated that it would take them more than six months to pay off their Christmas spending debt.

Debt is a huge problem in our country and Christmas doesn't help one bit. Debt aid charity, Credit Action, reports:

The ghost of Christmas past continues to knock on some doors as nearly 1 in 4 (24%) Brits are still paying off credit costs from last Christmas. Over a third of people on a lower income (34%) are still paying off their bills from last Christmas.

Cash-strapped families who turn to credit to pay for Christmas could be setting themselves up for a New Year debt disaster... [A] survey found that a quarter of people planning to borrow over the festive period will use catalogue credit, a fifth are planning to use store cards and one in seven are planning to go to doorstep lenders - three of the four most expensive sources of credit.

Christians Against Poverty (CAP) commissioned a survey of 2000 adults asking them about their plans for funding Christmas expenditure in September 2008. The results show that 76% of those questioned were worried about Christmas due to the financial cost. 30% of respondents said they did not budget at all for Christmas.

So it's not just abstruse arguments about religion and history. Consumerism is killing people - literally, in some cases - and at Christmas it kills more people then ever.

I want thoughtful, responsible, leading Christians like my blogger friend to be speaking out for simplicity and for sanity. 'You don't have to get on the merry-go-round' I want him to say. 'By all means look for opportunities to bless others and to relax with loved ones over the holiday season. But do it simply, include your poor neighbour, do it as Christ would do it.'

That's what I wished he'd said.

As for me and my house, what will we be doing over Xmas (as I much prefer to call it since it is more respectful to Jesus)? We will throw our big shared house open to our many friends, some of whom have no family (and little else besides). We'll play games with paper and pens, or with nothing, 'give-us-a-clue' style. We'll go for a walk in the country. Some of us will volunteer at our drop-in for the homeless. We'll play with our children. We'll laugh with each other. No-one will say 'bah humbug' but we won't eat turkey, pull crackers, or have a pine tree in our living room. We'll drink no alcohol and be riotously happy. We'll give no presents except for love - which I trust will be shared out generously.

My kids can't wait.

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

This gift-blog-thing you write about exemplifies Christians straining to be relevant/credible and it turning into something rather horrible. Sad.

Anonymous said...

I think for many people who do celebrate xmas, it may be the only time of year when members of the family pull together & make a real effort with each other. Yes that may be sad but I do think its an important time for the family... a kind of end of year reunion, and just like birthdays, if people want to buy gifts for each other then fair play. it is a set time for an expression of love & thoughtfulness. Gifts are an important expression of love to many, and though i'm sure many people do fall into the 'must buy' attitude maybe missing the point, for others it is a time of glad giving. I'm all for simple gifts or home-made gifts, but other people may not have the skills or ideas i do, and therefore more entertaining & consumeristic goods are an obvious gift choice... especially for children. Some people may not know how else to show love, especially if they have never been shown otherwise.

You're very lucky to have such a large house family to have fun & games with all year round... others just dont, so xmas holidays are a crucial time to enjoy the family to its fullest.

Surely we should be encouraging the expression of love & sacrificial generosity through gift giving in such a generally selfish society?

Christmas Hamper said...

Really like the description of Christmas "Christmas is more than just buying presents, filling up on Turkey and tinsel. Christmas is all about the birth of Jesus. But so that you can focus on the real meaning of Christmas..." Time to go shopping for Christmas Hampers Nice blog. Keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...

I can't take issue with your blog James. It just makes my cry. Both for the injustice and downright sinfulness of it as for the broken people who are only shown some sort of shadow of love from their families at Xmas time. It's the one time our family gets together - and we spend a couple of hours in uncomfortable land and then leave. Broken, broken broken. "Being with the ones you love" is a great idea, unless you don't love them and then it's just hell. Weeping.

Anonymous said...

Have been thinking a lot this year about gifts/spending/consumerism. Agree with a lot of what you say - difficult not to - but also value a lot of the cultural traditions of Christmas, and the feasting together, and sharing family/tribal times is a joyful and good thing. Yes to wise (or no) spending on material possessions, but also Yes to ... See Moresharing special time of celebration and festival, and if that includes turkey, decorations and crackers, then for me and my house, it is part of the holiness - the set apart specialness - of the season. It's a memorable event, a marker in the year for us. One of many, perhaps, most of which don't include spending money or accessorising with holly wreaths, but still a time to sing songs of joy, remember God's ways and works, and give thanks.

loz said...

Anonymous, sorry but that is such a lame take on the whole thing. It's precisely the whole "oh it's only once a year, let's splash out for the kids" pressure that gets people into hock up to their eyeballs. It's precisely the one offness that puts on that crushing demand to "make it special".

Christians need to be demonstrating a truly different approach and one that shows the stressed out world a chink of light; we don't need to splash out madly on what's "hot" to show we love and that loved ones are valued. Saying "you're not creative so just buy the same expensive tat as everyone else" is like saying "so it's salt water, but it's all we've got; drink up."

Please!

loz said...

This is a big debate the church needs to be having. When is the inspirer of your post going to come out and defend his piece?

hmmmmm said...

As long as we're loving Jesus I don't think he minds what we do! :)

pierscjc said...

I hate Xmas. Rah.
Why not just love each other (inc our families and kids) all year? Christians should exemplify that instead.

Adrian said...

I must admit that I like the day off work christmas brings...

Anonymous said...

Amazing you have managed to take the fun out of Christmas faster than the Queen doing her annual speech naked. Sprouts aside I think Christmas must be my favourite time of year. I really can't understand why you would hate it so. Was the magic stolen from you due to the fact you grew up in a house with no chimney? I have a friend whose terrified of Christmas due to the fact they were molested by a man in a red suit at a young age.

Of course you are entitled to your opinions my friend. But try to bring a little cheer to this otherwise cold and bleak season.

ho ho ho

Scooper said...

Personally, I think the Queen doing her annual speech naked would add to the fun of Christmas, not take away from it! Ho ho.

I loved Christmas as a kid myself. Had a wonderful time! Although even when very young I was aware of the affect the stress of providing for it was having on my dad (one Christmas, he was so stressed and depressed he had to sit alone in a dark room for hours).

I wouldn't personally try to reduce this blog entry down to a simple Christmas-hater's rant. It's got a lot to say about the darker, bleaker side of Christmas which is a hard, cold reality for so many people.

Look a bit wider than your own immediate situation. Don't ignore the blindingly obvious just because you're intent on having a fun time. Have a fun time, by all means, but don't ignore the facts.

Anonymous said...

Your so right. Christmas has become a terrible commercial mess. Lets get back to our roots. http://tiny.cc/63QZO

normal said...

Thanks for the comments. I have to say, my favourite was the spam from 'Christmas Hampers'. I laughed and laughed. I'm still chortling now. Do check out the link by clicking on the user name. Says it all. A wonderful part two to my post.

Steve said...

The words baby and bathwater come to mind.

I love Christmas, including present-giving, meditation, Christmas trees, worship, decorations, turkey and fellowship. Why shouldn't a time of joy be accompanied by feasting?

Jesus came eating and drinking and the Pharisees said 'He is a glutton and a drunkard'. Was he? No. But he knew how to celebrate the coming of the Kingdom.

I agree with you that showering dozens of expensive presents on children is a bit sick. Debt and depression aren't nice either. But a love-only Christmas?! I'd rather have a mince pie.

MikeIron said...

It is indeed an interesting debate! Interesting indeed that such hard line views on Christmas are pressed home by my beloved brethren, who benefit from the sales of goods which are clearly aimed at those poor devils who are sucked into this occasion :)) Check out the Christmas goodies at Goodness foods http://www.goodness.co.uk/ Type in the naughty and disrespectful word "christmas" in the website search engine and feast your eyes on those lovely goodies!!

Ho Ho Ho! :)

Anonymous said...

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Anonymous said...

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