Well, now. Have you had a lovely Christmas? Did you get some amazing presents? What did you get?
I was given, among other lovely things, some home-grown lamb and pork from my brother, which I’m really pleased with. I like Christmas!
But I’m sure you’ve noticed that there seem to be two sorts of Christmas! There’s the bit we do in Church, about Jesus being born, and the shepherds, and the star, and the kings, and so on. And then there’s the other bit, about Father Christmas, or Santa Claus, and Rudolph and the sleigh. And somewhere in all there there is lots of extra food and drink and turkeys and mince pies and stuff like that. It all seems rather a muddle, don’t you think?
Well, that’s partly because it is a muddle. You see, nobody knows when Jesus’ birthday really was, but scholars seem to think that the one day it absolutely wasn’t was the 25th of December. It is more probable that he was born in September – after all, sheep wouldn’t still have been out in the fields in December at that time and place.
But December is the darkest time of the year. We’ve just had the absolutely shortest day there can be – only 7 hours, 49 minutes and 43 seconds of daylight here in London – and now the days are getting longer again. Barely perceptibly at first – today, for instance, there is only going to be 7 hours, 56 minutes and 49 seconds of daylight, so today is only just over seven minutes longer than the shortest day. But it is longer, and that’s the point. People used to celebrate the turn of the year, the fact that the Light was going to come again.
And what better time to celebrate the coming of the Light of the World, people thought. So the old pagan celebration of Yule got a Christian bit tacked on to it, but the joins show rather!
And the Santa Claus thing is even more of a muddle – you see, in some countries he doesn’t even come on Christmas Eve! He comes on 6 December, which is St Nicholas’ Day, because, you see, his name really is “St Nicholas”, and “Santa Claus” is what it was corrupted to over the years. And so children in lots of European countries expect that Santa will bring them presents on St Nicholas’ Day. But our civilisation has muddled up Santa with Father Christmas, and we only get one lot of presents! Shame, really!
So what I’m trying to say is this – don’t worry about the fact that Christmas seems to have two faces. Enjoy it! But don’t ever forget that there’s more to it than just Santa and Rudolph and parties.... remember what Christians celebrate at Christmas! And are still celebrating – all the Santa stuff is over now, but the Christian Christmas goes on for another several days yet! Amen.
Alsace Trip, 30 March
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