"In your hands, the birth of a new day... " (Limahl)

25 December 2011

"A Fresh Look at Christmas"

I am grateful to the Wales Home current affairs website for publishing my seasonal essay...

"THERE is nothing quite like a school nativity play. This year was extra special for our family, as this was my three-year-old daughter’s first nativity at school. She made her debut as an angel, and sang “Sêr y nos yn Gwenu” (“The night stars are smiling”) along with her other angel friends in Burry Port memorial hall.

Nativity plays have certainly moved on since my own primary school days in the early 1980s. Back then, the usual formula was an adult narrator, with a few rehearsed lines for Joseph, Mary, and the wise men, with shepherds and angels used more or less as background props.

Fast forward to 2011, to a near-professional stage production, modern storylines, witty one-liners and an opera-rock soundtrack, complete with a backing band of synth, drums, guitar and electric bass. There are no bit-part players here: everyone in the school – from my daughter’s reception class right up to the senior 10-year olds, is given their own chance to shine.

Looking around the memorial hall at the proud parents, it occurred to me that Christmas will be the only time in the year that many people will get to think about faith. At my daughter’s play, the audience was challenged to consider “gwir ystyr y Nadolig” (“the true meaning of Christmas”). So, here goes…

In our modern society, Christmas will have different meanings for different people. In my view, each of these meanings has equal validity. For many, the festive season is a time to make arrangements to meet family and friends. And, as the New Year anthem Auld Lang Syne reminds us, to remember long-lost “auld acquaintance”, and those who have departed from this world.

For others, the sights and sounds of Christmas can be uplifting. From John Rutter to the Wombles, from Band-Aid to King’s College Cambridge, Christmas music never fails to stir the emotions, regardless of whether or not we believe in the story of Christmas as told in the Bible. In our capital city, Cardiff, the shopping centres and the “Winter Wonderland” ice rink outside City Hall will be a sight to behold.

In the midst of all this, it is right that we question the rampant consumerism and materialism of Christmas in 2011. It is sad, in a way, that the Christmas season is viewed as a key point in the calendar for the big retailers in our modern capitalist economy. Hopefully, people will take a look – and spend – at local, Welsh food and craft stalls at Christmas fayres and markets. For the sake of our environment, and our economy, we need to try as best we can to keep the “Christmas pound” in Wales.

Then, of course, there is Baby Jesus. Christians hold that Jesus is the “true meaning of Christmas”: that he was conceived by God’s Holy Spirit, and born of the virgin Mary. As I have grown older, I have found that I can no longer subscribe to the Christian gospel as far as Jesus’ birth is concerned, or his alledged resurrection from the death at Easter time. It was for these two key reasons why I decided to join the Unitarian denomination a few years ago. We have utmost respect for the life and works of Jesus, and his example of a life lived in service of others. However, we would contend that 2,000 years of scientific knowledge, and reason, calls into question the virgin birth and the story of the resurrection.

As a consequence, Unitarians have been persecuted by Christians throughout the ages, including in Wales: the Unitarian heartland of south Ceredigion was once denounced as Y Smotyn Du (“The Black Spot”) by Methodists in Wales. Thankfully, there is now a more constructive dialogue between Unitarians and Christians, as demonstrated by our continued input into the meetings of Christian Aid in Wales. And, as a faith which draws on the example of Christ as a human, we feel entitled to share a Christmas messsage.
As Unitarians, we wish everyone, of all faiths, a happy Christmas season. Feel free to enjoy ALL the meanings of Christmas. The shopping, the presents, the parties, the New Year Hootenanny on telly, and the traditional stroll on Boxing Day or New Year’s Day. We recognise the Pagan celebrations of Samhain. After all, Samhain provides the calendar basis for Christmas. Likewise, we respect (even if we don’t always agree with) the views of atheists who seek to challenge the faith basis of Christmas.

And we recognise our Christian counterparts, who find comfort and joy in the birth of their saviour, Jesus Christ. We may not agree on the idea of the virgin birth. However, we share completely in the awe and wonder of the shepherds and the wise men, whenever a new baby is born into this world. We remain vigilant against the King Herods of this world, and the constant potential for evil in our human nature.

Let there always be 3-year-old angels in tinsel to guide us to a simpler, kinder, safer and fairer world – as embodied in the birth and life of the baby Jesus."

Carwyn Tywyn
First published on Wales Home, December 2011.