Assistant Curate, Mariama Ifode-Blease, looks at Christmas afresh.
Christmas. You know how the song goes: “It’s the most wonderful time of the year. There’ll be fleeing, and packing, and running and hiding. It’s the most wonderful time of the year”.
As we may superficially see it, from a London perspective, Christmas is perfectly wrapped. The streets are beautifully decorated. The highly creative window displays of our local ‘corner shop’, with its instantly recognisable ‘eau de nil’ brand, brings people to a stop. Christmas TV is serving up some long-awaited treats, and the winners of Strictly and the World Cup have finally been crowned. Some of us are ready, and some (namely, me) are in denial that the 25th December is upon us again, and so soon. The last time I checked, there was a heatwave, and I was dashing to put my phone in the freezer after making the mistake of leaving it outside for all of two minutes.
Christmas trees adorn our public squares and sacred places alike. Train, coach and plane tickets are bought, and family reunions planned. Christmas can be beautiful, and glitzy, and indulgent. Christmas can also be complicated, edging between celebration and truth-seeking, and set against a backdrop of rising danger. The wonder of Christmas is that, though the story at its heart may not be held as a faith belief by many, its traditions have transcended heritages and inheritances, so that families of all faiths and none still gather and share in food and drink and gifts. Christmas is an extraordinary gift to humankind in the light of how we can be to one other during the fading 51 weeks of the year.
I write this a few days after a despicable article was published by a well-known television presenter about a woman. It was beyond the pale. What the article suggests is the humiliation of a woman, beginning with her nudity, a parade, all in public, of course, while waste matter discharged from the bowels are hurled at her as crowds shout ‘shame’. The subject of the article was a woman of mixed heritage. As a woman, and as a black woman, and as a priest who believes in the dignity of all people, especially women (and I include transwomen here), I must mention this reprehensible and frightening publication. Why? Because this is about us. This is about our society at Christmas. When the light from the manger-birth radiates out beyond the stable, what does it show? We must not fail to see that shoots that are watered by deep-seated misogyny and hatred can only lead to fleeing, and packing, and running and hiding. The family of the Christ-child knew that over 2,000 years ago, and we know it to still be true today. Is it the most wonderful time of the year? For some, yes, but not for all.
Those with more experience than me tell us that incidences of domestic violence are up around this season. It is a scary time for many, and that is more in line with the reality of the story we celebrate and bring to the fore at this time of year. Christmas, like no other season, brings up the past and present in a heady mix of unresolved grief and joy in expectant gatherings. We remember those who are not here, but the memories of whom remain. We celebrate with those we love the excesses of the season. We carry the weight of the unsaid and the unapologetic. The baby who lies innocent among the livestock and feed, and the three men who will bring gifts, and the crowned man who will plan the massacre of the innocents: role models and portrayals that take us between ‘kids jingle belling and parties for hosting’ to the fleeing, and packing, and running and hiding.
We approach Christmas, at the end of a year that has brought so much suffering, and to so many: from the cost-of-living crisis to reckless fiscal roulette, to personal trauma and tragedy, to the war in Ukraine, to all that has made this year what it has been. Yet in all of this, Christmas stands as the constant; a constant reminder of the truth of who we are and how much we are worth to a divine creator. God came down to earth at Christmas, choosing to take on human flesh, to experience life here on earth, to show us that, between the stable entrance and our lived reality, whatever this year has meant for us, and whatever Christmas brings up and means for us, God is here, with us. God makes love known so that we can make the world know love. How will 2023 tell our story of what God’s love has done for our being, and what it can do for the world?