Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Surving Christmas [Part III]

Still alive, still sane and finally as a family we all get to plob out and have what we call at "duvet day" (stay in bed late, don't get dressed, do noting of great importance, watch a lot of [new Christmas] DVDs and trash TV, talk about everything and anything but work and household business, play with the kids, chill out - you know the sort of day, however infrequently you get a chance to take it). A good "duvet day" is needed in the middle of the Christmas madness, if only to get your energy levels up to cope with New Year.

Christmas day was actually a good rest for us in reality - after the military level planning delivered a more than decent Christmas lunch, and the present opening went chaotically but enjoyably. I just caught the Christmas Doctor Who special, and that was about all the TV I saw all day! Otherwise my evening was spent stripping the turkey carcass and getting the bones in the stock pot to the strains of Kate Bush's "The Ninth Wave" - arguably the best thing she ever did, and one of my favourite Chrissie pressies this year (that and the Beatles "Love").

On Boxing Day we decamped up to North East London to the annual family get together at my wife's Uncle's extensive Manse (the only one of two houses in the family big enough for most of us to get together). That involves the small kids going mad with each other upstairs, the twenty somethings sitting around boozing and nattering in the front room, and us oldies sleeping off the large lunch of cold cuts in the snug. It is actually a good time to catch up and see people that we only get together a few times a year, and it is such a huge family that we do not all get a chance to meet up very often - we'll miss the next major family gathering as that is at the same time as our next baby is due to be born.

It was also a poignant get together, as last year's Boxing Day meet up was the last time that my wife's grandmother was with us all - she died very suddenly and unexpectedly in her bed on New Year's Day. As the clan matriarch, her absence is very keenly felt by all of us. This year there were only three generations of the family together - for the last five, we had seen four generations all together.

Not only have we survived Christmas this year, we have enjoyed it, reconnected with far scattered family, and remembered at the heart of it the story of God becoming a vulnerable child. Whatever the cultural battles over Christmas are (and I think they are largely based on a romanticised notion of a past that never was - Christmas has always been at least half a pagan festival), it remains an important time in our culture, whatever one's religious convictions. And it should never distract from the core message of Jesus' teaching and life.

There is nothing in the Bible telling us to celebrate a festival called Christmas (which is why some Christan sects dispense with it altogether), and indeed, we only get two, somewhat contradictory accounts of Jesus birth in two of the four gospels (Mark glosses over Jesus' origins altogether - while John goes for a mystical interpretation, which is very powerful, and I think deeply profound). The precise details of Jesus' birth are less significant than the impact of His life and teaching, yet it is the minutiae that get focussed upon. Jesus had a phrase for this - straining at gnats and swallowing camels. And who said Jesus never had a sense of humour?

So now it's the run up to New Year, and all the quasi spiritual themes about "new starts" and "resolutions" that usually entails. One, strangely profound moment in the Christmas Doctor Who (not a programme in which I normally find profundity) was the Doctor showing Donna the origins of the earth as all the debris of solar system coalesced to form the planets, and pointing out that the thing that humans do is create order out of chaos with our calendars and our festivals. We make meaning where there appears to be none - that is why we are so close to God in our nature.

New Year, like Christmas may be a bit arbitrary, but it gives us a focal point to collectively reflect on the year that was, and look forward to the year that is to come. We can do that individually and as families at point in the year of course - birthdays, remembrances of family deaths, wedding anniversaries, the third Tuesday in May, whatever is personally relevant or takes our fancy. But a shared, collective time of reflection is good for us as a nation and individually. We very often forget these collective acts and their importance to society.

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