Monday, 16 December 2013

In December the pursuit of profit makes whores of us all

My family accuses me of adopting an extreme Scrooge-like attitude at this time of year. They are probably right; I become increasingly hard to live with as the month we used to experience as Advent continues, wincing at supermarket carols and tinselly decorations and having almost to be forcibly restrained when wished a well meaning but premature 'Merry Christmas.' 
All right, I exaggerate - a little; but, frankly, I don't recognise December any more: it has changed utterly. My own childhood memories are of only decorating trees and putting up Christmas cribs on Christmas Eve itself, very often to the accompaniment on the radio of the Ceremony of Nine Lessons & Carols from King's, Cambridge.  Christmas - when it arrived, after the Midnight Mass - was something to be savoured and enjoyed, in church and out.
Now - well, we all know what happens now....
A confession, one more or less guaranteed to offend everyone at this time of year: my current pet hate  is reading 'tweets' and Facebook posts - long before mid-December - by Anglican clergy - and those of all traditionsboasting about how many (non-school or college, we know the end of term deadlines there) carol services and Christmas events they have organised. What fun!  It's the sort of thing we rather pitied the Protestant Free Churches for doing only a few decades or so ago; now we ourselves collude in the virtual disappearance of Advent. We know the parochial pressures and social expectations, but .....
I'm always being asked, 'don't you appreciate that we have to be where the people are?' Up to a point, perhaps; yet I remember only a couple of years ago, the horrified reaction from someone without any kind of 'liturgical' Christian background when, encouraged by the 'secular' spirit of the season, she arrived, with her young daughter, at the parish mass and found no decorations, no Christmas carols and, instead a concentration on watching and waiting and preparation, and on those very 'unseasonal' (but very seasonal) themes of heaven and hell, death and judgement. No amount of 'teaching' left her anything but utterly mystified at the contrast. Do we have to change that, too, in order to be 'where people are?'

What do we gain by ignoring Advent and giving the impression we actually approve of the violence that has been done to one of the major Christian festivals by a cynical process of commercial manipulation? Again, what exactly was the problem with celebrating Christmas for twelve days after December 24th? Well, we know the answer to that - it doesn't tally with the overriding need for a mid-winter boost to the retail trade; our society's commercial requirements have made whores of us all.
Perhaps the time has come for the Church to find some counter-cultural backbone and, once again, advocate and offer a conspicuous alternative to all this - the 'real' Christmas celebration has a lot going for it in the face of an increasingly unaffordable, high octane and destructively stressful month-long orgy of excess and over-spending.

Here's an American take on a common western phenomenon:   
"....It might not be quite so objectionable for society to squeeze out Advent with all its unseasonable Christmasing if it really was about … Christmas. Good tidings of great joy. Peace on earth, and good-will to men. The creator of heaven and earth became flesh and dwelt among us, and all that. We do, after all, need a little Christmas, all day every day.
But it’s not; it’s about merchants selling stuff. People looking for an excuse to have a party, to overindulge in alcohol and engage in gluttony and all sorts of other activities that St. Paul warned against. And all of us thoughtlessly getting caught up in the rush.
Worse, it seems increasingly to be about people who proudly proclaim their Christianity while looking for another reason to get angry, to feel put upon. We have in this country a certain brand of Christians who can’t tolerate the fact that businesses and schools and the talking heads on TV celebrate their insipid “winter break” with “holiday cards” and “holiday trees” rather than wishing them “Merry Christmas” — during Advent......
.... Adding insult to spiritual injury, the assault on Advent crowds out the real observation of Christmas — the one that starts on the evening of Dec. 24 and runs through Epiphany, 12 days later. Try to find a Christmas carol then or, after the new year, anyone who even says “happy holidays,” much less “merry Christmas.”
This morning, I will join 1.5 billion other Anglicans and Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians and a smattering of Protestants in singing Advent hymns and lighting the third of the four Advent candles. We will hear from St. Matthew how Jesus answered questions from the imprisoned John the Baptist about whether he was the long-awaited Messiah. We will hear from the prophet Isaiah and James the brother of Jesus about the Messiah’s return.
And then we will go back out into a world that pretends to need a full month to celebrate the incarnation but that is in fact too fixated on jolly old fat men and toy-filled sleighs and finding the latest gadget to have time for any of that."   [Here]

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