Like Easter, Christmas is a religious festival tacked on to an earlier pagan celebration, in this case the marking of the Roman winter solstice, and Saturnalia, a happy party time. From time to time there are calls for us ‘to keep Christ in Christmas’, and fusses from those who lament the passing of nativity plays in primary school. These days we are told how important Christmas is for the economy, the sub-text being a command that we should go out there and spend.
In my experience there is a fairly standard Australian Christmas that has very little to do with Jesus Christ but is a virtuous event nonetheless. Its characteristics are the gathering of family, a special feast, the remembrance of friends, the exchange of gifts and, if possible, a beach or other holiday setting. At one remove is the playing of Christmas carols and other Christmas music (like ‘Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer’) in shopping centres, setting up Christmas trees, and the appearance of people dressed as Santa Claus.
In short, Christmas is another public holiday, and we observe them happily without wondering all that much about what they are ostensibly for. Few see Labour Day as the marking of the struggle of workers to obtain better conditions. The media do that for us, but most of us build our own meaning and purpose around these days. Given the ethnic diversity of contemporary Australian society, it can hardly be otherwise.
So the New Year is marked by our wishing we hadn’t eaten or drunk so much during the party season, deciding to start again in some special way (lose weight, practise the piano, take study more seriously), and looking forward confidently to a year in which the diary is still open and many things are possible.
As an agnostic in religion as well as in much of what passes as knowledge I still value the Christmas story as one of the central aspects of humanity: setting aside all the supernatural bits, the story of Jesus Christ is one of the preparedness of one of us to sacrifice himself for others, the ultimate example of unselfishness – and our society needs that quality.
So I enjoy the Australian version of Christmas, and have no objection to the religious bits at all. I grew up with carols and later Handel’s Messiah, giving to those who are needy, and generally recognising, at a time when as many as possible of our family are gathered together, that we are fortunate and that others are not. I don’t see any of this is especially religious: but it is what makes for a decent society.
This will be my last post for 2012, in part because this is a year when the family comes to us, and I am the principal cook, and partly because I will be out of Internet touch for a few days. Normal transmission will resume on January 2nd, unless something of extraordinary quality occurs in the interim, like the end of the world, as apparently foretold in the Mayan calendar.
But let me offer a New Year’s wish. To push a microphone under someone’s nose, the camera close by, and ask the person an unbelievably asinine question, like ‘How do you feel, now that you’ve lost your son?’ is to me the height of rudeness. I don’t much care whether the person is a victim or a perpetrator: this is no way for a civilised person to behave, and I object to having to see this sort of thing as part of the evening news.
It is though television crews have superior rights. They don’t, though they are allowed to behave as though they do. When Kevin Rudd was Prime Minister I was present at a small event at which he was to speak. There were, appropriately, only a dozen or so people in the small room. In came the PM with the media gaggle, about 40 people in all, half a dozen cameras, double that number of microphones, and various minders. The media people pushed the guests out of the way, or stood in front of them. The guests were unimportant. Getting a better angle on the PM was the goal.
Enough annoyance! Enjoy your Christmas, and embrace the New Year with confidence and enthusiasm.