Christmas is, of course, nonsense. It’s the coopting of the Romans’ Saturnalia by the early western Christian church.
The Aramaic-speaking Palestinian freedom fighter whose birth it celebrates most likely came into this world in the late summer or early fall, not around December 25th, and probably four years earlier than once supposed. That’s if he existed at all.
Not so long ago I visited an early Orthodox Christian church in south eastern Bulgaria, near the Turkish border, and that faith’s oriental character is quite at odds with the blanched Protestant expressions around which I grew up. Playing with Catlick youngsters who had ash unaccountably smeared on their foreheads was as exotic as things got on Ennis Avenue.
Who cares, the contemporary Christian West worships a fictive, vaguely Italianate gay-porn Jesus in the diaper, not some dark skinned Middle Eastern “terrorist type.” I’m not a believer and loathe the commercialism but, having lived most of my life in town, adore Christmas because St. John’s does it so well.
The downtown of St. John’s has the right look, with snowy accents like those of black and white movie Victoriana. If a window opened and Alastair Sim appeared to bid some corner boy buy him a turkey at Halliday’s you wouldn’t look twice.
The crowds hurrying about in their woolly hats and mittens, trailing plumes of breath, remain as willing as they ever did to stop and talk. And our St. John’s setting is boreal, the city is nestled in a forest of Tannenbaum. The South Side hills are like a great wreath over the harbour. Christmas in a warm place is just another holiday.
Townies still bother to hang plenty of lights and decorations. The late December days are the darkest of the year so there is wisdom in this. It’s more than cheerful, it’s a prophylactic measure against the seasonal affective disorder that plagues so many people in these latitudes.
In keeping with the Saturnalian roots of the festival there is still a taste in town for feasting, singing, drinking, for all variety of merrymaking. Conviviality is, blessedly, still a thing in our remote and foggy outpost. I know and enjoy the company of my neighbours and we will all, through the season, get together for a few drinks and stories. That’s really something for which to be thankful.
We must make our toasts this year in the context of tables overturned and blood spilled in Paris. Innocents there were targeted because they had congregated in bistros to enjoy food and wine in the company of friends or to join in watching a band.
They had as little to do with France’s colonial legacy and the imperial crimes of The West as Syrian refugees have to do with Salafist-inspired terror. Our greatest gift this Christmas is to be able to celebrate and argue and love and believe or not believe in any religious foolishness or flags in peace.
Resist intolerance and thuggery by keeping the “Merry” in Merry Christmas. Joyeux Noël. Vive la France.