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Has Christmas lost its meaning?

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A few nights before Christmas, my mind was drawn to the sound of one of the traditional Christmas carols and assumed it was coming from the television, but I looked through my window, only to see a group serenading. That is something I have not seen for a while and it reminded me of my days as a boy scout, when we visited different homes spreading cheer and Christmas greetings. Many of the homes were those of poorer families from whom we expected nothing in return. Christmas is today little more than a commercial blitz and we are now all caught up with the market economy, as our country is more firmly placed in the global capitalist network.

Recently I read EJ Dionne’s piece in the Washington Post, entitled “Christmas Turned the World Upside down,” which brought me back to the real meaning of Christmas. Dionne quoted from retired Anglican bishop and biblical scholar NT Wright, who saw Jesus not as one “parachuting down from a great height to dispense solutions to all problems nor zapping everything into shape like some kind of Superman.” Instead he pictured Christ “living in the mess and muddle of a very difficult part of the world at an especially difficult moment in its history and absorbing the pain and the shame of it all within his own life, within his own body.”

Dionne reminds us that God was born in a manger, “surrounded by farm animals as part of a working- class family.”  

“The Christmas story is about God becoming one of us, and a particularly humble member of our community at that.” He quoted from the Roman Catholic calendar of readings for the third Sunday of Advent – the 61st chapter of Isaiah; “He has sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor; To heal the broken hearted; To proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners.”  Christmas to him is “fundamentally a subversive holiday . . . with Christianity at root a radical faith.”

Christmas for us is about who can buy the latest television or refrigerator. It is significant that the thieves who were captured on security camera breaking into Singer’s at 2 a.m. saw it fit to aim for flat screen television sets. To what extent does the Church try to bring us back to the real meaning of Christmas as they see it? The story of Christ’s birth in a manger has heavy symbolism and typifies what Christmas should be about. Those who should be at the centre of the story find themselves excluded and are presented with a different picture of Christmas. Santa Claus is central to that story. I have always been struck by poor parents making sacrifices to buy toys for their children and being forced to live a lie by telling them that they came from Santa Claus.

Christmas is a season in which we place our cultural stamp. The central element, the birth of Christ, is lost in the process. How much monetary satisfaction the business community got defines a good Christmas. Sunday shopping has now become very popular and plays to this. Is it that Christianity no longer serves a purpose in our society, since we seem increasingly to be moving away from what we are led to believe is the central meaning of Christmas? This is a question that should be answered by the churches, since a significant section no longer provides the moral anchor that is expected and very much needed at this time of increasing criminal activity. Instead, they genuflect to the whims and fancies of those with earthly power, acquired by hook or crook, which they claim to be divinely inspired.

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian.

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