Secular people would love the return of Advent

Many secularists would appreciate Advent (Yui Mok/PA Wire)

Over at the Guardian,  Suzanne Moore has a bit of a moan about Christmas, and the way the “conviviality police” are out in force at this time of year. Well, she has a point, indeed several points, most of which readers of this magazine will share. Why does Christmas have to start in November? Why do some of us make such a fuss over Christmas advertising from large department stores? And why do women have to work so hard over the festive season, when it clearly is not much fun for them?

The answer to all Ms Moore’s complaints, most of which I share, is the restoration of Advent. If we celebrated that properly, then Christmas would be confined to its proper limits, that is, the twelve days between Christmas Eve and Epiphany. Of course, what Ms Moore is complaining about is not the religious feast of the Nativity, but the utterly secular, for most, feast of Yule. There is nothing wrong with secular people celebrating at Christmas if that is what they want to do; they should be left in peace to do so, just as religious people ought to be left in peace by the secular when we wish to celebrate a religious feast. But Suzanne Moore’s polemic reminds us that once a feast loses its religious foundation, it looks in vain for another sort of foundation. Modern Christmas in its current form seems so pointless.

Having a go from another angle, and yet perhaps not so different from some of the concerns that the Guardian traditionally raises, is the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, as reported in this magazine. His Beatitude wants us all to have a more spiritual Christmas and has this to say about the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process:

“What suffering it is, to once again see our beloved Holy Land caught in the vicious cycle of bloody violence. What pain to see anew hatred prevail over reason and dialogue. The anguish of the people of this land is ours, which we cannot ignore or disregard. Enough! We are tired of this conflict as we see the Holy Land sullied with blood.”

Moreover, the Patriarch points out that wars, such as the one in Syria, which is now poisoning the whole Middle East, don’t just simply happen by accident. They are enabled by, among others, international arms dealers.

“On the one side, some speak of dialogue, justice and peace, while on the other hand promote the sale of arms to the belligerents. We call to conversion these unscrupulous arm dealers, who may be without conscience, to make amends. Great is your responsibility in these devastating tragedies, and you will answer before God for the blood of your brothers.”

It is traditional for the clergy not to name names when making condemnations, but the reference here is unmistakable. Yes, he means, along with others, the British government, which, though talking about peace and supposedly promoting it in Syria, is at the same time selling arms to Saudi Arabia and other states, who are supplying belligerents in Syria. British arms, let us not forget, are also being used in the war in Yemen, and were used to suppress the Shia revolt in Bahrain. At least, so I interpret the Patriarch’s words, but I do not think I am wrong.

The Patriarch wants us all to have a more moderate Christmas celebration than otherwise, given that the Middle East is riven by conflict. Suzanne Moore would probably agree with him. I certainly do. Given that the canticle of the angels sung on Christmas night was “Gloria in excelsis Deo, et in terra pax hominibus bonae voluntatis”, and that we are so far from peace on earth or giving glory to God, it seems only right that our celebrations should be tempered by a thought for those who have so little cause to feel happy.