On turning back the clock

This weekend there will doubtless be a flurry of articles in colour supplements and glossy magazines extolling the virtues of a simple Christmas. Ooozing with sentimentality, they will reminisce on Christmases past in between the colour pages advertising expensive gifts and food. This year we can expect even more of an emphasis on simplicity, as the recession begins to cut into people’s budgets. Anticipate lots of ‘make-your-own’ type articles, and look out for Christmas cards recycled into decorations. 

However, re-simplifying Christmas is a bit like ‘distressing’ cheap furniture to make it look antique – it can be a fool’s quest resulting in something far from convincing which looks worse than it did when you started out! The nature of things is such that for many people it is simply unrealistic to call for a return to a simple Christmas without thoughtful gifts, elaborate food and sparkling decorations. Families, children and guests are looking forward to these things – and providing them is a way of saying that we love them.

Occasionally the thrust behind the calls for simplicity is a harking back to the Victorian Christmases we see depicted on Christmas cards – where fires always burned bright, stagecoaches were always gleaming, snow was always even, and even the urchins were happy. Of course, they weren’t. Beneath the surface of a prosperous age was a tooth-breaking poverty often reinforced by greed and social climbing.

So what about if we hark back still further, to the first Christmas of all – with its mucky stable and its fragile baby? We should remember, though, that the child’s parents did not choose the circumstances of his birth. They were living in an occupied country under a regime whose intent was to impose Roman order on this far flung territory. No parents in their right minds would choose to travel such a distance in the last weeks of a pregnancy. No parent who had a choice would arrive in a town at the anticipated birth date with no room booked and no bed provided for the night. Mary and Joseph’s Christmas undoubtedly was simple – but not intentionally. Given a choice, their precious baby would have been born in their family home, surrounded by those who would love and care for him – and without an ox breathing down his neck!

So, if we can make Christmas special for our families and friends – why wouldn’t we? Making it special doesn’t mean bankrupting ourselves for the rest of the year, but nor should we be pining for a simplicity we cannot have. God’s gift of Jesus isTHE greatest reason to celebrate, ever,and we should remember that..

This post also appeared in my column on the Teddington Baptist Church website.