Monday, 21 December 2015

A conspiracy to celebrate

It's that time of year again. The economy is given a massive boost as human beings turn into consumers, driven by a tight deadline to buy food, drink, clothing and durables - gifts for one and all - to consumer together on one given day of the year. This day, we conspire to believe, is the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem, Judea, in 0AD. [As it happens, the historical figure of Herod died in 4BC.]

The news that the Sultan of Brunei has banned Christmas because it could undermine Islam is news precisely because Xmas has long lost its associations Christianity with the majority of the Western Hemisphere, having become a festival of secular consumption.

There is no evidence whatsoever that Jesus Christ was born on 25 December. Indeed that date was first mooted in the 3rd Century. Shepherds watched their flocks by night in Judea between the spring and early autumn. The probable reason the early church opted for the day because it coincided with the Pagan festival of Yule, and the passing of the Winter solstice - celebrating the fact that by 25 December the day was no longer getting shorter - but extending in length. And so just as many early Christian churches were built on the sites of Pagan worship, so its festivals held on days associated with Pagan celebration.

The historical authenticity of Jesus Christ's birth as narrated in the nativity accounts of the gospels of St Luke and St Matthew is doubted by most scholars. Features such as the birth taking place in Bethlehem ('Royal David's City') were written in by the Evangelists to square with Old Testament prophecies relating to the coming of the Messiah.

And yet, and yet, Christian, agnostic and atheist alike in the West conspire with one another, along with many other, non-Christian parts of the world, that 25 December should be that day that peace and goodwill prevails among men, and the weeks before that date be spent in preparation. Retail spaces are decorated with sparking lights, sparkle suggesting the snow (singularly missing at the birth of Christ) and the stars in the night sky.

Recent inventions such as the Christmas Tree (19th Century Germany, from Pagan roots), Santa Claus (St Nicholas, whose feast-day was 6 December), red-nosed reindeer and elvish toy-makers from Lapland are bolted with abandon. The Golden Age of the Christmas Hit Single (the 1970s) blurs the Victorian and Pagan past; before long Wizzard's "I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day" will become a carol. One day my grandchildren will believe that Noddy Holder out of Slade was a character from Dickens. Canonical Christmas - adding layer upon layer of ___ to the ritual - from the Gospels' manger, star, wise men, shepherds etc, via the Santa, his sleigh, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, nocturnal visits down the chimney, through to 70s pop music. It's all too much.

Getting ready for Christmas in the corporate world means a flurry of activity from early September (when the world gets back to its desk after the summer holidays) to mid-December, when business stops for a round of Christmas parties. During these 11 weeks, 40% of all the work in the year gets done in the Western Hemisphere. And then - barring the retail and hospitality sectors - it generally stops until early January. "Lazy old Britain takes fortnight off for Xmas" stories grace the pages of the Daily Mail and Daily Express.

Here in Warsaw, over the past week and half I've found myself walking huge distances each day - between meetings and shopping and drinks dos and home. Last year, I logged 56 units of alcohol a week throughout December - nearly three times the recommended amount and 'danger level' according to the National Health Service. But then "Christmas comes but once a year", and with the New Year a return to relative sobriety.

On Wednesday morning I set off to the UK for the annual marathon (Luton Airport - Ealing - Derbyshire - Manchester - Derbyshire - Ealing - London Airport). Not a week that can be defined as a rest. A few days off in the New Year, back in the office on the 4th, day off (Three Kings) on the 6th... the Christian calendar, overlaid on top of the Pagan one, sets the tone for the darkest days of the year.

Życzymy udanych zakupów = We wish you successful purchases, to quote the captain of my WizzAir flight to London Luton.

This time last year:
The Mythos and the Logos in Russia
This time two years ago:
Going mobile - I get a smartofon

This time three years ago:
The end was meant to end today (remember?)

This time four years ago:
First snow - but proper snow?

The time five years ago:
Dense, wet, rush hour snow

This time six years ago:
Evening photography, Powiśle

This time seven years ago:
The shortest day of the year

This time eight years ago:
Bye bye borders - Poland joins Schengen

3 comments:

Adam Kosterski said...

Oh what a shame! You seem so accepting of the secular wisdom it almost seems a waste of time to offer evidence to the contrary, but here are a couple of examples at quick notice anyway:

http://www.catholic.com/blog/jon-sorensen/why-december-25

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_ocvI9TXfgA

All the best, Wesołych Świąt,

A

Adam Kosterski said...

Something else FYI

http://www.bethlehemstar.com/setting-the-stage/why-are-we-hearing-this-now/

There's a video to cover his work on youtube but I think you might find it a bit evangelical, so perhaps just stick to his writing in The Study portion of the web site.

best,
A

Michael Dembinski said...

Not convinced! It's not about Sol Invictus, but about Yuletide - Christmas has a stronger meaning across North West Europe (and thence into North America) than Easter. 25 December is a Norse thing.