So, it’s over, the thing known as Xmas; that temporary distraction from the cold, wet, bleak British winter. This year I’m feeling somewhat more relieved about that than usual. Maybe I’m getting paranoid in my old age, but this Christmas I felt a little uncomfortable. It began when I heard Radio 3’s breakfast show host posing the question ‘can atheists celebrate Christmas?’ and asking the listeners to send in their assorted reckonings, many of which turned out not to be exactly ‘inclusive’. I shouldn’t have been surprised – the BBC isn’t exactly renowned for being secular-friendly. I’ve never really had a problem celebrating Christmas in the past, so I was put out to hear that actually, it’s not for me. I switched to Classic FM (the option of last resort) where I heard a comment by one of their presenters; a throwaway comment to the effect of ‘isn’t it marvellous that we’re a Christian country?’ (I don’t remember the exact words). I was quite shocked, but mostly rather sad, to think that a presenter could so casually alienate 50% of their audience with one thoughtless, ignorant and rather inaccurate comment. After that, it turned into an onslaught. Whether on radio or TV, I heard bishops and archbishops making facile comments that assumed we all share their beliefs. I heard carol concerts everywhere, and every other piece on Classic FM was a Christmas carol. I’m against the monarchy (now don’t tell me you’re surprised!) so I try not to watch the queen’s speech. This year I inadvertently came in on the middle of it and heard the poor old dear wittering on about god. Doesn’t she know that half of her ‘subjects’ (this is why I’m anti-monarchy – like Patrick McGoohan in ‘The Prisoner’, I consider myself to be a free man; no-one’s subject) don’t believe in god, and don’t consider themselves to ‘belong’ to the church of which she is the head?
Don’t get me wrong, I understand that many people want to celebrate Xmas as a religious event (notwithstanding it was originally a pagan festival that was annexed by the early Christian church). I’m happy for them; happy to let them fill their proverbial boots without criticism or interference, happy to respect their beliefs. I don’t mind a few carols. I might even have been tempted to go along to midnight mass for a good old sing-along (although the inevitable sarcastic comments about how full the church is now it’s Christmas can get a little tedious). But it seems to me that the religious establishment, supported by the media, and particularly the BBC (or Bible Broadcasting Company, as it’s known) is becoming increasingly insensitive to those who have a different world view to them; increasingly intent on restricting our rights to freedom of expression and belief – freedom of thought even. Their tone is increasingly bullying.
Religion plays no part in most peoples Xmas. It’s seen as a time for relaxing with family and friends, for giving and receiving gifts; a time to withdraw from the stress of day-to-day life for a well deserved rest. Which seems to me to be perfectly reasonable. We should be free to celebrate Xmas in these ways, just as the religious are free to celebrate it in accordance with their beliefs. All I want is a little tolerance.
Still, it’s over. Just Easter to look forward to now..! I hope that you all had the Xmas you wanted (if indeed you celebrate Xmas at all) whatever your beliefs, and wish you all the very best for the year ahead.