Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Yuletide Effect

It is December the 15th, and I had my third party of the season. A good party, too, full of bonhomie, good food, drink, music, bopping, a well-lit Christmas tree and lots of twinkling lights. Everyone seemed to enjoy it, Christians and agnostics alike. There don't seem to be many serious atheists around right now. Makes me wonder how Christmas affects non-Christians. Does it really irritate them, because of its universality and global influence? Like no other religious or non-religious festival. Or do they just take on the Santa story, adopting it into their own religious or secular/humanist celebrations? After all, Santa was certainly a decent, well-intentioned chap, and the story has attributes of altruism, care for the unfortunate, and rewards for responsible behaviour. The addition of the magical enhances the Santa story for children, while many adults, if truly honest, will admit to a passing yearning for the story to be true on Christmas Eve; probably a throwback to the day they first learned that it was a myth. It is such an unbelievably all-encompassing myth; of worldwide proportions, of breathtaking connivance, into which every aspect of life and culture colludes to uphold it.

The dual stories of Christmas - the birth of the Christ-Child, and Santa's gift-laden journey, both involve miraculous events, justifying its celebration in every land. I remember decorating Christmas trees in childhood in India, as my parents did in Burma and Singapore. Hindu, Muslim and Jain friends gave each other Christmas presents, knowing that it was a celebration of the birth of Christ. 'He was a good prophet, wasn't he?' they said in defence, dismissing the fact that He wasn't their prophet. So did Christians celebrate Durga Puja, Divali, Holi and Eedh in the same way?

I re-visited childhood memories and thought hard about that one. And 'No!' is my considered response. I recall being convinced of the differences to my own religion. Being surrounded by other faiths had no impact on my own religious life, but it did instill in me a strong respect for the rest. Perhaps it is how people of other faiths see Christmas.

I think that Yuletide introduces the possibility of, and longing for, the miraculous to enter the world of the ordinary, where normality can be sidelined, kindness and love can be demonstrated without apology, and where truth and beauty can shine through tinsel haloes and glitter stars, because mankind needs such a time as this - at least once a year.

Wishing you all out there a very happy, joyful Christmas time. God bless you richly.


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