During her programme on comedy and Christianity, ‘Are you having a laugh?’ Ann Widdecombe interviewed comedian Marcus Brigstocke; a clip was shown from one of Brigstocke’s performances. In it he said
I respect a person’s right to have a religion, but just how much do these people want from us? Christmas starts in October and approximately two months is lights, songs, special meals, promotions, adverts, decorations, trees and nativity plays in thousands of our schools. So my question is, how much more do you Christian campaigners think you might need from us before you stop your ******** whining?
OK Marcus, I know your tongue will have been a bit in your cheek and your conversation with Ann showed that you are a quite reasonable person when not in on stage mode. I expect a comedian to exaggerate a bit – and yes, I found your rant funny (though the fun is wearing off a bit after repeated replays to make the above transcript!). But hang on a minute… how much of those months of agony (and I don’t enjoy it much myself!) is actually to do with us Christians to begin with?
Most Christians in my experience only want to be doing Christmas as such for the month of ‘Advent’ leading up to December 25 itself, and Advent is more than just Christmas anyway. For those who follow the ‘Christian calendar’ there’s plenty else to do for the rest of the year, including the much more important celebration of Easter. Though less common, many others do not accept the dubious calculations which led the dubiously established Roman Imperial church to the December 25th date and we don’t feel a particular need to specifically celebrate Jesus’ birthday at all, though we’re usually polite enough to go along with those who do. And actually in less overtly ‘Xmassy’ ways all Christians celebrate all year round the deep implication of Christmas as the incarnation of God in human form.
The massively extended (over-blown?) celebration that you protest about, Marcus, is really, as your mention of ‘adverts and promotions’ suggests, more to do with a commercialised festival which took off in the early Victorian era, perhaps particularly from the writings of one Charles Dickens, and has now almost taken over from the original religious feast. It has increasingly taken on a life of its own and apart from using the name ‘Christmas’ (and even that often reduced to the anonymous ‘Xmas’) barely refers to the Christian beliefs at all. Consequently far from campaigning for it, most Christians actually find this manifestation of ‘Christmas’ a problem.
For this modern materialistic winter festival the true god is ‘Father Christmas’; this figure is ultimately pagan, and is also prefigured by the ‘Spirit of Christmas Present’ in Dickens’ Christmas Carol. There is confusion with the genuine Christian festival earlier in December of St Nicholas, a 4th Century Bishop famous for some spectacular gifts, but the modern ‘Santa’ has become a completely separate figure with a fairy story legend which makes him a kind of Scandinavian demigod as he allegedly lives at the North Pole with his elves.
Ironically Santa is one of the few religious beliefs on behalf of which you (even you, Marcus) may still be more-or-less officially persecuted in our fairly tolerant country. If you are invited to visit a junior school and entertain the children, try telling a class of nine-year-olds that Father Christmas doesn’t exist, and see what happens. If you get out alive… well, it may not be quite that bad, but it could still be an adversely career-changing move for a comedian who does a lot of work for children’s TV! (Several teachers in recent years have suffered such persecution for misjudging whether their classes had already grown up enough to abandon belief in Father Christmas). And see how the adults will rush in like the 7th Cavalry to repair the ‘damage’ you have supposedly done by telling the truth to the kids, with ‘special lessons on the meaning of Christmas’ to reinforce the Santa lie. Most of those adults will have no serious Christian beliefs, and of course they won’t – unless insane – believe in Father Christmas at all!!
So Christians aren’t really responsible for much of the Christmas palaver you are whining about, especially the way it now starts in October (or even, I sometimes feel, in October of the previous year!). I suppose the staging of nativity plays can’t be so easily disclaimed; though these days there is a considerable element of tradition and custom (“This is the ‘done thing’ at Christmas”) rather than serious faith on the part of teachers. This is basically because of the many years when most of Europe was formally Christian. Because this blog deals regularly with that issue I’ll not go into it again in detail right here, just say that according to the New Testament Christianity should not have had that special place in the state. Mind you, much of the pattern of modern schooling derives from days when the churches provided education for people because the state in those days didn’t; you should at least give the church credit for that, and indeed for being the lead educator in many modern third world countries where un-or-other-believers can’t be bothered.
Christians I think have a right to campaign for their faith; as you, Marcus, have a right to oppose us and make fun of us. If we are doing things biblically we won’t be seeking special privilege in the state, just humbly seeking to share things that have truly helped our lives. And we are often dismayed by the modern ‘Christmas’ as much or even more than yourself.
See also a separate post on this blog about the Widdecombe programme….