THIS IS my favourite time of year: the carol services, the hearty farewells
as the congregation heads homewards from the Christmas service with a feast
awaiting, the grown men roaming the land dressed in silly red romper-suits . .
Also adding to the seasonal cheer — or to mine at least — is the annual
press report best described as a "Christmas is cancelled" story. Barking local
authorities (not to be confused with the London borough of Barking) seldom fail
to come up with a new regulation to outlaw references to Christianity, and such
stories litter the newspapers in the weeks approaching 25 December.
The Archbishop of Canterbury appealed through the pages of
The Mail on Sunday for common sense to prevail. The Puritans mounted
an assault on the merry-making surrounding Christmas 350 years ago; today, Dr
Williams argued, the assault on the central Christian significance of the birth
of Jesus is every bit as over-zealous. "If we tried to have the holiday without
the story, we’d soon notice that the heart had gone out of everything," he
wrote. "Let’s not be ashamed of that story. Hang on to the Christmas pudding by
all means, but don’t forget the crib."
THE FACT that some American churches have decided not to open for worship on
Christmas Day is far from helpful to Dr Williams or those who would echo his
view in the United States. There, political correctness, assisted by the
constitutional bar that prevents the government’s endorsing any particular
religion, have made greetings of "Happy Christmas" unfashionable.
A fine rant by Andrew Sullivan in The Sunday Times cut through this
daftness. "The solution that the Supreme Court has come up with is an eminently
sensible one. Christian scenes — Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus — are fine on
public property, as long as they are accompanied in some way by other
non-religious Christmassy thingies. "So Jesus can never be too far away from
Santa, or a menorah, or a Nordic pine. We have yet to enjoy the Japanese
innovation of actually putting Santa on a cross, but the Supreme Court would
surely not object."
Sullivan also pointed out that a defensive chorus of Christian voices
demanding the preservation of Jesus at the heart of the holiday can appear just
as daft. "When you hear about secret plots against Christians in a country
creaking beneath the weight of gazillions of Christmas lights, trees, muzak and
musical specials, you know you’ve entered the twilight zone of paranoia."
Some things, though, are sacred. Critics of President George W. Bush, take
note: there is no "holiday tree" to be found at the White House, only a
CHRISTMAS arrived a week early for The Mail on Sunday. "Registrars
warned of bogus gay weddings," it reported, brilliantly marrying two topics
liable to send a shudder through Mail executives: immigration and the first
civil-partnership ceremonies this week. They wheeled out Ann Widdecombe, who
concurred that, just as marriage is exploited by immigration cheats, civil
partnerships are bound to be "abused", too.
Planeloads of what newspaper diary columnists like to describe as "Brazilian
dancing partners" are no doubt in the air en route to Heathrow as you read
this, anxious to woo a civil partner. Or perhaps not.