the Disillusioned kid: Episode IV: The New Seasonal Message
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Sunday, December 23, 2007

Episode IV: The New Seasonal Message

It's that time of year again. The tree's up, the tinsel's out and Shane MacGowan's been dethawed for his annual outing. Winterval is well and truly upon us. The annual celebration of Cliff Richard's birth is a time closely associated with tradition: the giving of gifts; overconsumption; the singing of carol; the Docto Who christmas special; and, of course, the Disillusioned kid seasonal message. Now in its fourth year (honestly, count 'em) this seasonal event is hotly anticipated by nobody in particular, but might go someway to making up for my generally piss-poor efforts at blogging over the previous year.

Normally my seasonal ramblings consist primarily of various musings on the "War on Christmas" which assorted right-wing nutjobs insist is being waged by a conspiracy of secular-lefty-liberal-PC-islamist-thugs. Invented by American "conservatives" as a stick to beat their political opponents with the concept has been hinted at by some of the nuttier elements of the British right, but has yet to exert any real influence on British political culture. The fact that there isn't and never has been such a conflict outside the paranoid delusions and well-honed persecution complexes of Rebekah Wade and Stephen Green is probably a crucial factor in this absence.

This year I've been fortunate enough to avoid any mention of the War. The tabloids are obviously more interested in writing about a photogenic blond, white girl while the soi-disant "true defenders of the faith" in the BNP are too busy fighting amongst themselves to put up much of a defence. Even their "patriotic Christian" front-group the Christian Council of Britain seems to have nothing to say on the matter. If there were a war it looks like they'd be losing. Which ought to be a comfort.

For what it's worth I enjoy the festive season as much as anybody despite, or perhaps because of, my complete lack of faith. As I've suggested in the past, Christians have no monopoly over winter festivities. Indeed, they are a recurring theme in various cultures. This is hardly surprising. What better cure for the winter blues than a big party? Indeed winter festivities pre-date Christianity's emergence by some way. In fact, th Romans actually held a festival on December 25 which they called Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, "the birthday of the unconquered sun." (Note the parallels with Christianity's birth of the son of God.) Christianity settled on the date largely arbitrarily, although the available evidence (much of it derived directly from biblical accounts) suggests that Christ was most likely born in the autumn. Holding the festival in winter served as a sweetener to putative converts who wouldn't have to give up their traditional parties. This also helps to explain the co-option of pre-Christian symbols such as holly.

To cut a long story short, I have no problem at all with stripping Christmas of its religious content. I don't believe that this inevitably reduces the holiday to a celebration of consumer capitalism. In a post written last year, Jason Godesky argued that gift giving is in a sense a hangover from tribal societies and noted that it offers an alternative to market economics, one operating according to an inherently incompatible logic. On this basis, he concluded, that a society in which Roy Wood got his wish and Christmas was celebrated everyday would be a gift-economy and hence something to be striven for. I know it's hard to believe as you do battle with crowds of angry shoppers to get that last copy of Delia Smith's latest cookbook, but Christmas is, in a small way, a glimpse of a post-revolutionary society. Just with Cliff Richard on the soundtrack.

In my experience, radicals never turn up the opportunity for a party so why should this one be any different? I'll be tucking into my nut roast on Tuesday, supping the odd alcoholic beverage and foreshadowing the coming gift economy as I'm sure will most of you. Enjoy it.

Happy Christmas, Chrismukkah, Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, Duckmass, Hannukah, Hogmany, Holidays, HumanLight, Koruchun, Kwanza, New Year, Saturnalia, Winter Solstice, Winterval, Yalda and/or Yule!

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