Christmas is a time of love and goodwill, or so we were often led to believe. The root of this belief in universal benevolence at the end of December is doubtless the canticle of the angels on Christmas night, who sang: Gloria in excelsis Deo, et in terra pax hominibus bonae voluntatis, that is Glory in the heights to God, and on earth peace to men of good will. It is the ‘good will’ bit that is the clincher. If God is to give peace on earth, He needs a modicum of human co-operation, as human beings are free to reject His grace. And that is why the season of Christmas remains a battleground.
In some parts of the world it is a battleground quite literally: I am thinking of the areas controlled by and threatened by groups such as ISIS and Al-Shabaab. In a place like England, we can at least be grateful that here are as yet no terrorist threats directed at those who openly wish to profess the Christian religion, and long may that remain the case. But what there is is something else, a constant annoying carping about religion, which seems to reach its crescendo in late December.
It would be tedious beyond belief to analyse the number of published articles that somehow or another attempt to do down the religious celebration of Christmas; and it would be impossible to monitor the tide of discontent that floods through the internet. Only yesterday a Times journalist (thankfully behind a paywall) treated us to his recollections of going to Midnight Mass drunk, while in the same edition Libby Purves wrote about the way in which Midnight Mass is somehow ‘under threat’, thanks to rowdy drunks, streakers and others on Christmas Eve. And in today’s Guardian Zoe Williams laments her isolation at this time of year as an atheist who hates shopping, making reference to “the churches, especially with their midnight shenanigans, [which] give the consumerists something to laugh at.”
I am sure Ms Williams herself would not laugh at Midnight Mass, but she imagines Midnight Mass as an occasion of mockery, and describes it as ‘shenanigans’. I am left scratching my head at this. Why would Midnight Mass be of any interest to non-Catholics? Surely it would be an object of supreme indifference? Why can’t non-religious people simply leave religion alone? Why should they show any interest in it at all, if indeed, as they profess, they are non-religious? Why can’t they regard the 25th December as a day like any other? Why on earth, every year, do we have to be treated to stories like this one from France, where people are trying to ban cribs on government property? Or why is Whitehall advising people, seemingly, not to say ‘Merry Christmas’?
Let me make my own position clear. We are all free to do what we want. Nothing is compulsory, and everything is allowed, more or less. But please, please, please, can we give these endless moanings about Christmas a rest? Might it be possible for those who do not like Christmas for whatever reason simply to ignore it, and to allow us who do like it, to celebrate it in peace?