Monthly Archives: November 2013

A Merry Little Christmas

Now that summer has gone (and come back again for one last hurrah, then properly disappeared at the sight of the snowflake symbol flashing on our dashboards), it’s definitely that “approaching Christmas” time of year again.  In fact, the TV adverts are already telling me that “It’s Christmas” (not just approaching Christmas!).  It surely won’t be long before the radios of the land will be beginning to play the usual festive tunes, and DJs will sound excitable and nostalgic all at the same time.  Noddy Holder and Roy Wood can look forward to another bumper royalties pay-out, as can George Michael’s erstwhile musical collaborator, Mr Ridgley, while shops and offices sway to the themes of Last Christmas.

Constant radio-play drills these songs into our heads.  Today’s children don’t know the National Anthem, or even some of the best traditional Christmas Carols, but you can be sure they know Rudolf the Red-nosed Reindeer’s special song!  Loads of these popular Christmas songs refer to nostalgia, winter weather and to the activities of one red-suited white-bearded gentleman with a supersonic sledge.  To find any reference to the Christ of Christ-mas you’d probably have to listen to Cliff Richard.  Indeed, very few songs refer to the religious aspects of the Christmas season at all.  I find it fascinating, then, that, despite the normal pattern taken by writers to avoid religious motifs of any sort, one of the most popular Christmas songs actually treats us as if we believe in the tales of Greek mythology!

The song is “Have yourself a merry little Christmas,” popularised by Judy Garland in the 1944 MGM film, “Meet me in St Louis,” and subsequently recorded by notable others including Frank Sinatra and the Muppets (separately!).  Having spoken of “Faithful friends who are dear to us” who “gather near to us once more,” the song speaks of a hope that, “Through the years we all will be together, if the Fates allow.”

The Fates may sound like a slightly dubious 1960s pop-group, but they are in fact characters from the Greek pantheon: Clotho (the spinner) spins the thread of life for each human being; Lachesis (the measurer) chooses the lot in life each person will have and measures off how long that life is to be; and Atropos (she who cannot be turned) finally cuts the thread of life with her shears, so bringing each person to death.  In the world of Greek mythology, everything is subject to them – even the gods themselves.

Can there be anything more out of place in a Christmas song than a reference to three hag-like characters who wield such an impersonal and determinative power over the whole universe?  I’ll grant you that Rage Against The Machine’s Christmas number one of a few years ago was in pretty poor taste, but I reckon this line is probably more unhelpful still.  It taps into our society’s materialistic understanding of the world and encourages us to shrug our shoulders along with Doris Day and say, “Que sera, sera!” (or as today’s teenagers might put it, “Whatever!”) as if life doesn’t really matter.

This is complete madness, since the whole point about Christmas is that we matter immensely to God.  He doesn’t stand back, unable to overcome the power of the Fates (who don’t actually exist).  Rather, in His great love, He breaks into our world in the person of Jesus to rescue us and make us His children.  For those who feel helpless in the face of “fate” or other powers and authorities, He brings hope; the creator of the universe cares enough for us to search us out and bring us back to Himself so that through the years, we will be together.  And that’s a story that guarantees my celebrations each year can be described as “A merry little Christmas”.

More famous than the Beatles

A couple of years ago it was Paris, Lindsay and Britney.  Nowadays its Kim, Cheryl and Katie that seem to be the movers and shakers – the newsmakers whose every move finds its way onto our breakfast table or computer screen.  And for what?  Some are famous merely for being famous; some, despite some initial promise are now famous for being out of control; some are both.  Is this freak-show really what life has become?  The cult of “Celebrity” seems to be in the ascendance.

As relational creatures, human beings have always been interested in the exploits of others, so this fixation with celebrity is not necessarily anything new (though perhaps it is on a new scale).  According to my diary, during October (the month I’m writing this) there are 28 people from down the centuries that the Church of England thinks we might like to remember and for whom we should thank God.  The lives of those whose names I recognise from this list are vastly more appealing than some of the dross we see on television.  These include the social reformer, the Earl of Shaftesbury, and St Francis of Assisi in whose name the chapel in Hunsdon is dedicated.  Also on the list are Martin Luther (the German priest who radically altered the religious and political landscape across Europe in the early 16th century), William Tyndale (who translated the Bible into English and was martyred for it in 1536), and Bishops Ridley and Latimer (who preached the Bible and were martyred for that in 1555).  Tucked away also is the renowned Nurse Edith Cavell, whose relative Kitty once lived in Hunsdon.

Though we rarely remember them, the impact these people have had on our lives is immeasurable.  There’s no doubt about it, these people changed the world.  It’s not surprising, then, that some have decided these notable characters should have a day on our calendar in their memory.  Somehow I can’t see the same honour being bestowed upon Ms Kardashian, Price, Cole, Hilton, Lohan or Spears!

But there is one who is even greater than these celebrated saints.  His exact dates of birth and death are unknown, but every year we commemorate them both.  His life did not inspire a single day to remember; rather, his life is the foundation for the whole of our calendar.  As we approach Christmas this year, let us remember that Christmas starts with Christ; the one who changed the world and keeps on changing it through his people.  And may the one who is more famous than the Beatles hold your hand in your hard day’s nights and whenever you need help.