Tony Robinson, spokesperson for World without Wars, writes in a personal capacity on the theme of Christmas, the monstrous consumerism of it all, the message of Jesus and his hope for a new humanist awakening in society.
It’s December, there are 12 days to go until Christmas Day and I’m in Cologne, Germany for a few days. Outside it’s freezing and I’d prefer to stay inside but a very good friend of mine is selling waffles in one of the Christmas Markets that this country is so famous for and I agree to meet him in case there’s a chance that the crowds aren’t so big and we have the chance to talk over a coffee, and of course maybe I’ll get a free waffle!
As it happens the waffle stall is busy so I decide to walk around and look at the various other stalls to see if there is anything nice for sale and come back later to eat a waffle. The market is full of traders selling either food and hot wine or articles made by hand such as jewellery, leather goods, wooden toys, ceramics and other such things. There are many people here, some children are crying, someone is pushing, a few people have had too much wine and on the edges of the market there are one or two homeless people begging for money while all around them those with money are spending freely, oblivious to the contradiction… and I begin to get tense.
How did we end up with this kind of Christmas celebration in the Western world?
I start to reflect about the meaning of all of this and I wonder…
How many people will get into debt or should I say further into debt because of Christmas?
How many people truly give at Christmas from their heart without calculating in advance how much they will receive?
How many parents will be pressurised into buying things for their children that they don’t need or are just some temporary fashion that will be out of date next month?
How many people’s jobs around the world depend on people in the West consuming as much as they possibly can and how many of them will be out of work as soon as Christmas is over?
How many families will argue?
How many lonely people will cry in their isolation and solitude, unable to communicate with even their closest friends, neighbours and colleagues?
How much suffering and misery is it possible for one holiday to create…?
Where did this monstrous consumerist binge come from? Did the legend of Jesus Christ have anything to do with it?
When looking at the mythology it seems that the story of the “three wise men” could have something to do with the giving of presents. In the Eastern Orthodox Church they arrived on the 25th of December with gold, frankincense and myrrh, although in the Western Christian Church this doesn’t happen until the 6th of January.
In addition there is the mythology of one Saint Nicholas who is celebrated on the 6th of December. It seems to be from here that the idea of present giving seems to take on more importance and the idea of leaving stockings or shoes for the presents can be traced back here.
Father Christmas as a fat old, jolly man starts to appear in the 15th century and wears a green outfit in his original incarnation. Of course, the red man with the white beard is a product of the Coca-Cola Company if the urban myth is to be believed, and certainly this is the version we are familiar with now in the West, but the gifts, the reindeer, the elves and the North Pole residence are all pieces tacked onto the story later on in history.
Certainly nowhere in the consumerist nightmare we suffer at Christmas is there any mention of Jesus Christ giving presents to anyone. Instead we find the Sermon on the Mount. At this point can I just point out that I had to study Religious Education at school for 3 years and at no point did we ever study this, the most important document of Christian spirituality, and I start to get even more tense at the education system, and the Christian church which teaches us nonsense such as the feeding of the 5,000, but nothing about what Jesus actually taught. But I digress, among other things the Sermon on the Mount says:
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God,” and, “Therefore whatever you desire for men to do to you, you shall also do to them.”
And in this we see that the myth of Jesus is a story of one of the first recorded humanists, someone who promoted nonviolence and the need for peace, and someone who would certainly be disgusted by the Christmas celebrations we witness today.
So, this Christmas and for the rest of your life if you really consider yourself Christian and also if you don’t, the best present you could give anyone is to bring peace to the world and treat others the way you want to be treated. Not only will it be good to help reduce the suffering of others, it will also be very good for reducing your own suffering.
So, for my friends and those who read this, I’m sorry, they’ll be no Christmas present from me this year, just a desire for all of us to be happy and healthy and a desire that we may find something truly meaningful in our lives, something that takes us out of the hypnosis that this dreadful world has put us into, a hypnosis that allows us to accept the economic crisis while the military keep on increasing their budgets, a hypnosis that makes us think that celebrities and soccer matches are more important than defending human rights and eliminating poverty, and a hypnosis that makes us think that war and violence are the only way to resolve conflicts.