This assembly examines our relationship with Christmas, challenging listeners to ask themselves why they might be celebrating during the Christmas season and how far their celebrations match up with their own beliefs
Engagement[An official-looking person ‘arrives’ and reads from an official-looking document]
Reader 1: All you gathered here today – pay heed! Her Majesty’s Government has today passed a new law which all citizens shall obey without question.[Reads from document] In these times of economic difficulty, it is the decree of Her Majesty’s Government that Christmas is to be cancelled with immediate effect. Anyone found celebrating any act connected to Christmas will be charged and may be fined or − in extreme cases − sent to prison. The acts which classify as offences are: decorating or attempting to decorate a Christmas tree; singing or being witness to the singing of anything remotely connected to Christmas; eating…
Reader 2: Right, that’s enough! What’s this nonsense all about? Cancel Christmas? That’s just plain stupid.
Reader 1: No, it’s just plain sensible. The Government has decided that the whole thing is just a complete pain.
Reader 2: Why? What’s so bad about celebrating Christmas?
Reader 1: Have you any idea how much money is spent at this time of year? Often on pointless plastic tat which will be forgotten about soon anyway – do you remember everything you got for Christmas last year? I’ll bet you don’t…
Reader 2: Yeah, but buying all that stuff helps all the shops stay in business, doesn’t it?
Reader 1: It might look that way, but actually it’s not real money being spent – most people will be spending what they haven’t got and will just begin the new year in debt.
Reader 2: Oh. [Short pause] Right. So the Government wants to cancel Christmas because no one can really afford it?
Reader 1: Well, partly. Then of course there’s the trouble…
Reader 2: Trouble? At Christmas? What trouble?
Reader 1: Christmas parties; too much drinking; arguments turning into fights. The poor police, hospitals and other services at Christmas – they don’t have much of a merry Christmas, I can tell you. Especially because booze is so cheap these days and Christmas seems to bring out the worst in people.
Reader 2: Oh. [Longer pause] Right.
Reader 1: And THEN there’s the bad tempers of Christmas shoppers, fighting for the last one of this year’s big ‘must-haves’, and the poor shop workers who work right up to the last minute on Christmas Eve and then up for an early start on Boxing Day to cope with more crazed spenders.
Reader 2: Oh. [Even longer pause] Right…
Reader 1: And the lies – they‘re everywhere; people lying about Santa to their children, lying about liking gifts they don’t like, lying when they sing Christmas carols they don’t believe in…
Reader 2: Oh. [Looks really sad now]
Reader 1: And then you’ve got the over-eating; the amount of energy used; the competition about who’s got the biggest presents, the best-decorated Christmas tree, the most lights on the house; the poor turkeys (let’s not even go there) and also the millions of trees – some of which are uprooted and thrown away after just two weeks, and many more which are used for wrapping paper which we rip off without a second thought!
Reader 2: All right, that’s enough! You want to ban Christmas? Fine by me.
Christmas is either viewed as a fun festival which helps us to banish the gloom of the midwinter months, or something we feel we have to endure every year without fail – and, perhaps more importantly, without thought. Whilst in many people’s eyes it’s a cheerful time when everything’s rosy and cosy and the spirit of goodwill is all around, for others it’s just a complete hassle – producing levels of stress which no other time of year seems to match. People just can’t stop going over the top at Christmas, as well as filling their lives with worry about such things as: ‘Do I have enough Brussels sprouts?’ and ’Are my presents expensive enough to show how that I care?’
There is also the issue that some people are celebrating either something they don’t really believe, or something which they do believe, but in ways which don’t really fit with their beliefs.
There can be a weird collection of mixed up beliefs – some of which have nothing to do with each other. For example the feast on the day itself, which is possibly linked to the Roman feast of Saturnalia; then there’s the popular modern picture of a ‘jolly bearded Santa’, an image shaped by the Coca-Cola Company in the nineteen-thirties; and even nativity plays, which tell the story of the birth of Jesus, are often mixed up of all the different versions of the story in the gospels.
And then there’s the Christmas cheer and goodwill to all mankind, which is so often spoken about at this time of year. Is it real? Does it even exist? Why should we be more cheery at this time of year? Wouldn’t it be better if it could last throughout the year instead of just one day?
Perhaps this is all very miserable, and hardly what you expected to hear when you’re getting yourself geared up to enjoy celebrating Christmas… But think how you’d feel if you were working at the newly opened Lapland New Forest centre in Dorset! This attraction promises a ‘magical Christmas’ experience, but has faced some fierce criticism since it opened, including reports that it looked like a “glorified car boot sale”, with a nativity scene on a billboard, a broken ice skating rink and a bunch of huskies in a muddy field . According to one newspaper there have been around 2,000 complaints since it opened. So much for festive cheer!
We go to attractions such as this to meet our apparent need for all things Christmassy − some people actually spend huge amounts of money to fly over to the real Lapland to visit the ‘real’ Santa! But what is it we’re really looking for when we celebrate Christmas and do these kinds of things?
There are three interesting possibilities about the whole celebration of the event. The first is that we know what we’re celebrating and why. The second is that we’re just following the herd – celebrating because everyone else is, but we don’t really know why. The third is that we have some kind of need to celebrate something at this time of year, and somehow or other, Christmas seems to match up with that need.
Which of these applies to you? Why do you celebrate Christmas? What would you miss if the Government did actually ban it? What, after all is it for?
Reader 1: So then, you’re agreeing with us that Christmas should be banned?
Reader 2: [pause] Well, I think probably yes [pause] but then [pause] think of all the good things we’d miss out on…
Reader 1: And they would be…?
Reader 2: Well, for a start…
Listen to these words, from which you may make a prayer if you like:
Christmas time is here at lastAnd time to have some funBut hang on – I’ve some questions to ask
Am I the only one?
Is it really all it’s cracked up to be?The tinsel, the turkey, the bright Christmas treeI know that I like it but I don’t know what for
Perhaps I should think more about it and question it…or
Maybe I’ll just carry on as I’ve doneHaving my Christmassy pleasures and funOr maybe instead of just struggling through it
I should ask myself firmly, ‘Now, why do I do it?’
Give me the grace to think through my actions this Christmas time
And match them to my beliefs
This e-bulletin issue was first published in December 2008
About the author: Joe Walker is Head of RE & Psychology at Liberton High School in Edinburgh. As well as being a well-known author he was winner of Secondary Teacher of the Year at the Scottish Education awards 2005.