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It’s Christmas! (and there’s nothing wrong with calling it Christmas)

(Tom Rickhuss) - Credit: Archant

Ok, we got Brexit, but at least Britain doesn’t have to put up with this ‘War on Christmas’ nonsense

Merry Christmas.Yeah I said it. Merry Christmas. If Christmas is something you do, Merry Christmas, and if you do something else, Merry Whatever It Is You Do, and if you do nothing, be merry doing that. There, that wasn’t so hard, was it?

But you know there really is nothing wrong with calling it Christmas, whatever significance you do or don’t attach to the first six letters of that word.

One of the many and varied bits of toxic right wing lunacy which have drifted across the Atlantic over the last decade or so, to settle on the more desperately populist peaks of our media like little snowflakes of hate, one that thus far seems not to have caught on – thankfully – is the whole ‘War On Christmas’ nonsense.

Possibly because religion is just generally taken far less seriously in this country than in the States (something about which we should be extremely proud), and in particular has never yet been politically weaponised as it has in the USA, to the immense detriment of American political discourse.

I say ‘yet’; occasionally a British politician attempts to ‘do God’ but fortunately – and appropriately – this generally diminishes rather than enhances their credibility.

I can’t have been the only one who didn’t know whether to laugh or cry last month when our Prime Minister announced that her faith in God would help her find a way to implement Brexit.

Leaving aside the thought, as expressed by many on Twitter and elsewhere, that had Sadiq Khan cheerfully declared that his transport policy was being guided by the hand of Allah, this would have been greeted with hysterical consternation in the same tabloids which approvingly reported the PM’s statement, let’s just examine the actual meaning of what May said: that she was choosing to ignore the advice and opinions of the experts and economists who still warn that Brexit will bring turmoil and misery, and opting instead to be guided by the voices in her head. That might have worked for Luke Skywalker but it’s not something you really want to hear from the politician preparing to overhaul our constitution.

So it’s a much less religiously charged environment in which we operate in the UK and as such there’s rather less capital to be gained by whipping up fears of secular/non-Christian efforts to destroy or diminish Christmas, whether by trying to discourage the use of ‘Merry Christmas’ as a seasonal salutation or by other pernicious means. And, indeed, it’s harder to get such stories to gain traction in the first place.

But even over here, it’s a vexed question among the kind of liberals prone to self-examining themselves to a standstill at the best of times as to whether it’s appropriate to go around using what is, we’re told, a sectarian Christian greeting at this time of year (put a pin in that thought; I’ll return to it in a moment).

I think there’s a lot to be said for giving each other the benefit of the doubt here; most of my British Jewish friends tell me they don’t much mind being wished a Merry Christmas as long as they don’t feel there’s any intent to exclude or intimidate behind the phrase. My American Jewish friends on Twitter are slightly less ready to dismiss this notion, for reasons I’ve already alluded to.

And in fairness we Brits don’t really know what else to say; the American non-denominational alternative ‘Happy Holidays’ doesn’t really work for us as that’s not what ‘holidays’ means in this country.

To Limey ears, the word ‘holidays’ is inextricably associated with buckets and spades and sand in your socks. Only the kind of flashy Herberts who ‘winter’ in the Caribbean have holidays at this time of year as far as we’re concerned, and frankly, who cares what they call December 25.

So it’s either Merry Christmas, Seasons’ Greetings (which makes you sound like a Hallmark card) or awkward silence for us, I’m afraid. But here’s the thing: the word Christmas should not exclude or alienate non-Christians because (take the pin out of that thought) IT’S JUST A NAME.

Right now ‘Christmas’ is the name that most of the English-speaking word gives to The Big Midwinter Bash and it’s as good a name for it as any of the others it’s ever had.

But The Winter Solstice Knees-Up had already been a thing for centuries before the medieval church co-opted it as Jesus’s birthday, and, I dare say, should Christ ever go the way of the other 3,000 or so gods nobody worships any more it will continue to be a thing for centuries thereafter.

But just calling it CHRISTmas doesn’t make it all about Christ. Not unless you want it to be. It’s just a name. The Romans called it The Festival of the Birth of the Unconquered Sun which is quite my favourite name, and if it didn’t take about a minute and a half to wish someone a Merry one I’d be using that name all the time.

Speaking of the Romans; it’s worth noticing that pretty much everybody is content to use the standard names for the months of the year without getting stressed about the fact that these are the names the Romans gave them to honour their gods and deified emperors. If the name ‘Christmas’ makes December 25 a quintessentially and uniquely Christian affair, then should we not spend the whole of next month making sacrificial offerings to the Two-Faced God Janus?

Simply put: if only Christians can use the word Christmas, only Vikings can use the word Thursday.

In any event, my feelings on religion in general are fairly well documented and I LOVE Christmas. Always have. It was my favourite time of the year as a kid and even more so now I’m a dad. I’m going to have the best Christmas I can – and those of you who celebrate it, I hope you do the same. God knows we’ve earned it after this year.

I’m going to leave you with the man who invented Christmas as we in the modern world know it; Charles Dickens, speaking through Scrooge’s nephew Fred, expressing a view of Christmas that is, regrettably, as revolutionary now as it was in 1843:

‘But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round – apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that — as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. And therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!’

Mitch Benn is a writer and comedian

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