The grotesque side of Christmas

father-christmas

It is not difficult to understand the captions: –

Le village du Père Noël – The village of Father Christmas, the dark satanic mills of China where children labour excessive hours with about the equivalent pay of children in the early nineteenth century in England.

Ses Elfes – His elves. These are no mythological creatures, but real exhausted children who should be at school and with their families. They appear to have been allowed a “quick break” to sleep for a few minutes.

Son traineau – His sledge. This one isn’t drawn by reindeer! This is one of the biggest cargo ships in the world bringing plastic toys, television sets and who knows what else all the way from China to our great European ports. Even more overheads can be shaved away so that the maximum profit is made from Europeans paying European prices for Chinese goods.

Commercial Christmas is horrible beyond description. People are going to stuff themselves with rich food, get drunk and give family members and friends various consumer goods that may be more or less useful. Easter is a greater feast than Christmas, but attracts much less hype – other than rows and rows of Easter eggs almost before Septuagesima! Going to do a bit of shopping yesterday evening with my wife, we found the Galette des Rois for Epiphany, an almond cake made with puff pastry with some little thing made of pottery that designates the winner of the cardboard crown. Who would buy such a thing so long in advance of the 6th January? The supermarkets are floods of light, colour and tinsel – and the real brunt of the Christmas shopping has hardly started. The shelves are full of stuff from that ship, assembled in the factory by those exhausted kids employed by Ching Chong Hung Chow Dark Satanic Mills & Co. Ltd. I once knew a couple of Chinese takeaways in London. One was called the Wan King and the other proudly bore the name Foo King. A northern lad with a smutty sense of humour might make something of those names! What does Christmas means to non-Christians?

There is no need to be puritanical or to deprive ourselves of the festive atmosphere after Mass in Gallicantu, some good company with family and friends, a glass of good Champagne and something nice to eat. Christmas Day sees a family Mass on Christmas morning, a good meal with a stuffed duck or guinea fowl washed down with some fine wines. Presents can be things we make for each other from local materials. The ladies can get their knitting needles out, and the men can make things out of wood – or the other way round! There are still some goods manufactured in Europe and America, and we should pay our money to some of our own workers and retailers. We can make efforts to buy things in small shops rather than supermarkets, even if we have to pay a little more for less.

Needless to say, I am preaching to the choir! We approach the third Sunday of Advent and the great O Antiphons. I hope we can capture something of the prophetic spirit of Advent in spite of the noise and commercial pressure to buy, consume, buy and consume…

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24 Responses to The grotesque side of Christmas

  1. What you said about the ladies getting their knitting needles out reminds me of a Christmass Day at my grandparents’ house when I was little. I said I was cold so my grandmother and my mother together knitted me a jumper to go home with. Another present for me! Like the “Noah’s Ark” themed rug that my grandmother made for me when I was a baby, that jumper is in our loft somewhere.

  2. Ecclesial Vigilante says:

    This is why I prefer to gift my family with books, books, books, and yet more books. Down with gaming systems and up with reading!

  3. Stephen K says:

    There is no need to be puritanical or to deprive ourselves of the festive atmosphere after Mass in Gallicantu, some good company with family and friends, a glass of good Champagne and something nice to eat. Christmas Day sees a family Mass on Christmas morning, a good meal with a stuffed duck or guinea fowl washed down with some fine wines.

    This is both true and yet not true: true as aspiration, and as fact for some, but not true as not fact for many. One of the ugly aspects of the Western commercial Christmas is that, like the unceasing advertisements on TV, it reminds the many people without work, without income, or without sufficient means, that they are worth nothing because every image and invitation to buy and consume acts like a reprimand of their circumstance. But even people who have income may not be able to look forward to “family and friends” (because they don’t have them or they are too far away), or to duck or guinea fowl and fine wines (because by the time the regular bills for electricity, council rates, insurance, rent or mortgage etc are met, there is nothing else for Christmas extravagances). Every mouthful of anything of the kind can be a sponge of gall and vinegar if the misery concealed behind closed doors is remembered. Christmas festivity is framed in affluent terms that can exclude, divide and conquer.

    I never look forward to Christmas; I find it an oppressive time only highlighted, not alleviated, by the proclamations of religious joy, which may often be divorced from the reality in many people’s lives, manufactured or devoid of anything but ritualistic significance. Even churches are guilty of buying into the assumption of middle-class comfort – what Mass or service is not concluded with the priest’s exhortation to go home and have a happy dinner with family and friends? I think for so many people Christmas must be one of the saddest and loneliest times of the year.

    I think the religious emphasis on nativity is infantilising (no pun intended) and incapable of counteracting the commercialism which doesn’t look like changing anytime soon. However, perhaps it is time for the whole religious mood of Christmas to be radically changed to something more sober, less divisive.

    • I agree with you, especially when I think of my native country, and where I am now living more and more. The pressure is on to have the need of more and more money and to make it harder to earn. In England, money is really everything and a person is worth what he has in the bank or as invested capital. The cynicism in England can be cut with a knife.

      In my own life, I feel apprehensive about Christmas and the hypocrisy surrounding it. We will be four: wife, mother-in-law and sister-in-law. I just hope they won’t have a row because something was not up to expectation!

      Liturgically, the Epiphany is much more important than the Nativity – and is devoid of commercialism other than the puff pastry cake with almond filling and the chance to wear a cardboard crown!

      Indeed, one of the saddest and loneliest times of the year for too many folk. Indeed for me too when we indulge in too much luxury and things are still not up to expectations for wives! Just today, my wife needed something from the supermarket. The sight of piles of turkeys in their wrappers made me want to puke up! And it’s only the 10th December!

      Perhaps we need simply to say Mass and Office for Christmas, and then celebrate Epiphany with more than it usually gets.

      • Stephen K says:

        Perhaps we need simply to say Mass and Office for Christmas, and then celebrate Epiphany with more than it usually gets.

        Yes, that’s it in a nutshell. My understanding for many years now has been that Christmas Day is a beginning, not an end, and that the angelic proclamation of 25th December, the “revealing” (epiphania) on the 6th January, and the Baptism of the Lord thereafter are three symbolically-linked elements of the mystery of incarnation and make less sense individually without the others. What a difference it might make, spiritually speaking, were the Churches to re-calibrate the liturgical architecture to incorporate the whole period as an extended triduum? And here’s another idea: we know why the Annunciation was celebrated 9 months before 25 December: but this significance is lost in people’s focus, and there is no need for liturgy to mimic biology at the expense of theology. Why not relocate it to the beginning of Advent?

        There are probably other things that could enhance meaning at this time, and sort out some of the metaphors that have become mixed over time. Why, for example, delay the feast of the presentation of the Lord until after his adult baptism? Surely all these commemorations are events that, for liturgical purposes, belong together in a coherent sequence and proximity? Just because they were put here and there for reasons once, many years ago, surely does not mean they have to remain there for efficacy and meaning now. And at a time when most people reject or are ignorant of any of the timing, customs and rationales, a protest of “tradition” is futile, in my view. [At the risk of mixing a metaphor of my own, whatever “Tradition” means, it surely can’t extend to the religious equivalent of the captain of the Titanic insisting on keeping the key to the padlock on the lifeboats in an obscure cupboard on the lower decks because that’s where it’s always been.] Just some thoughts.

    • Dale says:

      “One of the ugly aspects of the Western commercial Christmas is that, like the unceasing advertisements on TV, it reminds the many people without work, without income, or without sufficient means.”

      What 19th century fantasy world are you living in? Today, at least in the west no one lives like this. The unemployed because of government entitlements and handouts enjoy very much a middle class standard of living, at least in the United States and Great Britain, they have cars, apartments paid for by the taxpayers, free Christmas gifts for the kiddies, free food, free television reception, really it never ends.

      ” Even churches are guilty of buying into the assumption of middle-class comfort.”

      Oh, good Lord, give it a rest. My mother had eleven brothers and sisters and lived in a two room up two room down, my father’s family was slightly less better off during the time of the Great Depression; they never spoke of their family Christmases as anything but joy-filled and usually it only concerned going to church. Both my grandparents and parents worked damn hard to achieve middle-class status, very hard indeed. So please find another whipping boy. This one is tiresome. I should also add that I am also from a large family as well.

      • Stephen K says:

        The unemployed because of government entitlements and handouts enjoy very much a middle class standard of living, at least in the United States and Great Britain, they have cars, apartments paid for by the taxpayers, free Christmas gifts for the kiddies, free food, free television reception, really it never ends

        I think, Dale, your own fantasy and your own whipping boys are clear enough. Swap places, and see how you feel after, say, 6 months.

      • I didn’t anticipate the conversation evolving along these lines – but it was inevitable. Many people, including Syrian and other refugees, think that the social benefits in England are very generous. I haven’t lived in England for a while, but I don’t think someone not actively looking for a job gets very much, and benefits are cut off all too easily. Sometimes unjustly.

        The old thing about richer people being encouraged to forego pleasures because of the poor is an old one. There is socialism and socialism: one involves the State behaving like a huge private corporation and being worse than a conservative or “right wing” system. The other is an ideal that you don’t find in modern politics, but rather in monasteries – all resources being put in common and given out as needed.

        I have had good experiences of Christmas, and not so good ones. Perhaps the best have been at seminary when we had Matins and all the three Masses. There was a tremendous sense of community, and some indulgence in the refectory. I have been alone at Christmas, in particular when I returned to England in 1995 to join the ACC in its previous “incarnation”. No one invited me to their home after the Mass of the Day. I had some nice food in store and watched a video, and had a phone conversation with my parents who were quite a way to the north. The year before last, my wife and mother-in-law had a row, and I was tempted to leave them to it. But, there was really nowhere to go in the time. That year, I hated Christmas!

        There are schemes in towns to get lonely and old people together for something nice. I suppose that depends on how condescending the organisers are. Another thing about England is the exhorbitant prices for buying or renting a flat or a house. Perhaps the northern and grottier areas are a little cheaper, where the cooking smells from the dwellings can be quite exotic!

        I remember a story about someone who went to work in a humanitarian organisation in Africa, and could not bear to eat meals with his team whilst the natives were starving. The leader said to the person: “It’s very simple. If you don’t eat, you’ll starve and you won’t be able to help the starving people”. That’s the way it is, but I do agree that we are called to be simple and considerate, and above all not to waste what we are fortunate enough to have.

      • Dale says:

        Very close friends of mine were both laid off, they had at that time two children. Besides section 8 housing (look it up) they received $800.00 American dollars per month in food stamps. My sister worked for the welfare system, you would be amazed at what the benefits are and the fact that as long as their is no marriage, a woman with children receives benefits without end.

        Stephen, you are clueless.

      • To be fair to Stephen, he lives in Australia. I don’t know anything about the welfare system there.

      • Dale says:

        Oh, I also teach at a small rural school where most of the students’ parents are on some form of entitlements, they all have cars, they are not only well fed, they tend to be over-fed. Get off the Dickens and look at the modern reality.

      • Dale says:

        Oh, my across the street neighbours, have never worked, ever, they have been existing on disabilities and welfare for the nine years I have lived here.

      • ed pacht says:

        Dale, I’m with Stephen here. Take off your blinders and look around. Yeah, there are those existing on benefits because they’ve made that choice – that is reality – there are always cheats. However, there is no shortage at all of people who try hard and never get ahead, who would not make it without the benefits we grudgingly provide. You mention cars as evidence that they are doing OK. How, in this auto-centered society, can one get along without? We refuse to set up adequate public transportation, and remove our formerly local businesses to malls. Can people get there without cars? This is just one example. We have a society so set up that one requires what looks like wealth to poorer societies just in order to get along. Try living the life your neighbors live for just a week – you’ll know what a struggle it is. Above all, my friend, try to show a little compassion. I’m not talking handouts, but I am talking respect, concern, and an effort to feel what others are feeling, to recognize “the least of these My brethren”. You’re making Scrooge before the apparitions look like a humanitarian. Merry Humbug, sir.

      • Dale says:

        Strange, only two minutes ago one of your new hires at the school, hired from India, has just figured out that she is paying 33% of her income in taxes, she has also discovered that the normal payout for family on welfare is more than $30,000 American dollars per person. She is a liberal, but appalled.

      • Dale says:

        That should be “one of our new hires”

      • Dale says:

        For the many years that I was doing graduate student work, and when I first started teaching, I could not afford an automobile, I used a bicycle to get around. I did this for ten years. Cry me a river.

      • Stephen K says:

        In missing my point colossally, Dale, you have revealed yourself, and I don’t find it pretty.

        In my view, there’s a perennial challenge for Christians of whatever brand – that is, how are we to show justice to our neighbour the love for whom is like unto the call of love for God? How often do we each fail in our own daily lives? And here we have the spectacle of Christmas as celebrated by Western consumerism, a great month-long clarion call to gluttony and over-consumption, when it is so easy to forget that people are starving or going without etc. I took up Father Chadwick’s commentary to remind how even simple things like a family get-together and a bird for lunch can’t be assumed or taken for granted. And all you can think of is how much you resent social welfare systems and the neighbours you think are cheats.

        Your kind of response doesn’t help the problem I think we have to acknowledge and confront, especially at Christmas.

      • There is a point that most social welfare systems are colossally expensive and cumbersome. In the healthcare world, Big Pharma can charge $100 for a band-aid and it doesn’t matter who pays for it. If the bar wasn’t set so high in the job market, so that people could find jobs more easily, less tax and social contributions, a more streamlined bureaucracy… There is also a lot of injustice when a person doesn’t entirely fit into this or that category. The question is extremely complicated. The burden of paying for the welfare state is astronomical. It has to be affordable, or people need to find less obstacles to finding work and being independent.

      • ed pacht says:

        There’s room for doubt as to whether particular intended solutions actually help people or not. The existing social welfare programs and systems are not sacrosanct, and it is true that many aspects of these programs fail to help and may actually have negative effects.
        It may be true that some of these programs actually serve to place those for whom they are intended under further bondage while appearing to help. These are all questions that Christians may profitably discuss. Scripture, believe it or not, does not contain programmatic directions, but it does contain a lot of particularly demanding instruction as to attitudes. The Sermon on the Mount and many other words of Christ, the Magnificat, the Epistle of James, are among the places where such discussion can be found.

        Christians may not be bound to specific approaches to a solution, but we are bound to think in an entirely different way from the world around us. We are not allowed a judgmental attitude, but are instructed to find the beam in our own eye, to recognize our own deficiencies and wickedness. We are not permitted to consider ourselves as better than some others. All have sinned and come short of the glory of God. We are not permitted to hate or scorn other human beings, but are urged, yea commanded, to love even our enemies. We are constantly directed toward compassion. When I am told, “Cry me a river,” I’ll take what is intended as sarcasm, a put-down, rather as an exhortation to care very deeply about the misfortune of others, even those misfortunes they may have brought on themselves. After all, but for the Sacrifice of Calvary, I myself deserve nothing better than Hell. Everything is a gift of grace, totally unmerited, God’s original giveaway program. What God asks is that we allow Him to remake our minds and our hearts. Bitterness, jealousy, judgment, and revulsion simply do not befit a Christian.

        I’m old, dependent on Social Security and subsidized rent, and thankful for both. I live a sparse but comfortable life and am thankful. There are those, many of whom I actually know, who receive a lot more government help than I do, and may indeed be actually ‘gaming’ the system. Am I to despise them? Or am I rather to recognize that there are real needs, partly material but mostly spiritual that the system in not meeting adequately. Yes, I do cry rivers, especially in prayer, that they may find the help from God and His people that has been lavishly poured on me. I look for direction as to how I can be a part of God’s answer to the real needs, whether in action I am able to take, or perhaps merely by struggling to find the most helpful direction to vote. Above all I ask God’s help to change me, that I show less of the Pharisee in my life, and more of the presence of the Holy Spirit within me.

        Thus, Dale, though I’m not committed to a “Liberal” view as to how these concerns are to be met (In fact, I tend far more toward a classic Conservative approach), I find such comments as yours to be highly unhelpful, repugnant, actually. It is such attitudes as these that give fuel to the atheists’ fires – that, in actuality, has kept some of my unbelieving friends from willingness to consider the claims of Christ.

      • Dale says:

        Stephen, you are also revealing yourself, and it is not only not pretty, it is pretty stupid. You are indeed clueless. In the United States the vast majority of our taxes go for entitlements, and now less than half of all Americans even pay taxes. My tax rate keeps going up, my insurance rates keep going up. For what? So that literally millions can be maintained, at taxpayers expense, to a fairly lavish lifestyle. That does include free housing, free food, free education, free transportation, free television, free phone service. You are indeed clueless. Try reading, “Life at the Bottom”; written by a Brisith doctor who served the poor population of London for many years, it is not pretty, and our outdated vision of the poor is just that, outdated.

      • Dale says:

        “when it is so easy to forget that people are starving or going without etc”; do you actually have any real statistics of how many millions have starved to death in the western world over the last say, two years? Silly me, I thought our problem was obesity.

      • Dale says:

        “you resent social welfare systems and the neighbours you think are cheats”; the man is on disability, he has been on disability payments and just about everything else for many years, does not seem to stop him from doing yard work, chopping wood etc. etc. Is he a cheat? Did I say that, but one can certainly, perhaps, think so. Your self-righteousness is more problematic than anything I have stated.

      • Dale says:

        And, before I lived in a community that was heavily dependent upon perpetual welfare and government entitlements, my ideas were just as smarmy caring as expressed by Ed and Stephen. Nothing like a cold dash of reality.

  4. J.D. says:

    I don’t own a television set and hardly shop so I’m out of the loop when it comes to the secular Christmas and it’s invitations to consume. This year I’ve been following the Julian Calendar and the saints and feasts commemorated in my Old Orthodox Prayerbook so I’m even more far removed from the hubbub accompanying the season.

    It’s crazy because I used to love this time of year— including all the secular mythology of Rudolph, Santa, candy canes and the like, but anymore I’m numb to it. The religious observances and the invitation to pray and ponder the Incarnation are what I find more uplifting than anything else.

    I told foljs this year to not buy me anything, just send a nice card, spend time with me or call and catch up on old times. Aside from the religious sentiments and mysteries of this season I am most touched by catching up with loved ones, and recieving homemade cards and stuff like that.

    Let’s make this season something quiet, peaceful and beautiful.

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