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Christmas is a time for ...

Worshipping the Sun Gods.

Worshipping the Sun Gods. Photo: David Tease

So this is Christmas 2012.

Christmas beckons many Australians, not as a rite of faith but as an end of year moment for reflection, celebration and vacation.

For a proportion of this nation it is more than that. It is a prayerful time acclaimed a manifestation of God who was sent to Earth for a time. But I always argue that the God of Sun, not the Son of God, is at the heart of the Aussie Christmas.

Christmas has changed. In my imagination, I see the ghost of Christmasses past being more sober, less commercial and more faith-based. Sobriety and faith are now distant from the contemporary Christmas. Christmas has changed in Oz and therefore often stands condemned.

The conventional condemnation of this ancient festival is well known: "Christmas is an affront to our multiculturalism. Christmas is an irrational religious myth. Christmas is crass. Christmas is commercial."

The critique is propounded by both polarities of a theism divide. The religious are affronted by the commercialism which takes the Christ out of Christmas. The non-Christians could be threatened by the dominance of a faith different to their own. The atheist must deal with another irrational religious mythology. Surely everyone's a loser? No, we are winners because of the changes in the Australian Christmas.

The dazzling atheist, Tim Minchin's ode to Christmas, extols its virtues:

"I'm looking forward to Christmas

"Though I'm not expecting a visit from Jesus

"I'll be seeing my dad

"My brother and sisters, my gran and my mum

"They'll be drinking white wine in the sun."

Once again, it is the Sun God who dominates the thinking of an Australian Christmas.

The innovation and change that assails the Australian Christmas is typical of its history, from its pagan origins to Christian overlays and now to its secular influences.

This festival is a great confluence of European winter fire festival, inspiring Christian faith in the son of God and secular worship of the (lower case) god of sun. Indeed most of the symbols of Christmas have nothing to do with the nativity but are Yule winter symbols such as candles, lights, Santa and the evergreen species that flourish through the bleak northern winter such as holly, ivy and fir trees.

Xmas is increasingly conjoined with the new year and even Jewish feast of Hanukah (Happy Chrisanukah everyone). The Christ has been ripped out of Christmas if that is what you want.

Christmas has, in a Darwinian fashion, evolved to suit almost everyone.

To Tim's piece I would add the godless Lennon's observation, in his simplistic paean to peace:

"So this is Christmas

"And what have you done

"Another year over

"And a new one just begun"

Lennon recognised, even as he shivered in the Northern Hemisphere, that Christmas is a time for end of cycle reflection. In godless hearts, personal rumination has replaced the transcendent reflection that moves the godly soul.

I too reflect on a mixed year as we all inevitably do. My personal profit and loss is a bit dodgy.

On the debit side, an election was lost, one of my children had their heart broken and another encountered the vehicular deaths of young acquaintances.

But on the credit, the kids flowered, the doggies still live despite the captivating allure of busy roads, the marriage thrived and the blog survived.

Indeed, the blog is reaching a landmark of its own as it edges towards 50,000 comments. It is truly a place where the comments predominate over my initial piece – something else to reflect on.

The tail of this blog is much waggier than the dog. All in all, for me it was not a bad 2012.

The predicament with these reflective opportunities is that sometimes the assessment is horrible.

Bad assessments are more corrosive if the traumatic bits occur near Christmas. Our beloved correspondent, "pen from hrba" has reminded us that for him, Christmas is awful as it coincides with the anniversary of a family tragedy.

But suffering is an age old problem for humanity and arguably more so for atheists. The argument goes that suffering may be easier to rationalise if a religion somehow puts it into context. I can only hope that your annual report is not littered with disappointment or sadness.

Such a statement is an empty token, for life is always messy. But it is typical of all Christmas cheer that my platitude is uttered more in habit than as a genuine gesture. Token gestures are so Christmas.

So my defence of the much maligned notion of Christmas goes like this. On a national level, it brings all of us together in this amalgam of religious and secular symbols that we can all enjoy regardless of belief or lack thereof. It is sufficiently secular to appeal to the non-Christians and it is sufficiently Christian to provide spiritual inspiration for believers. The specific rituals of hymns, carols by candlelight, disgust over degustation, gifts, Santa and fake snow are now symbols that are capable of enjoyment by all. Because rituals need repetition and rehearsal to gain traction, I imagine that the only songs we as a community can sing together are the national anthem, that Matilda song and carols. Carols are, whether we like them or not one of the few musical rites that bind us as a nation. They are to be preferred to "Ozzie, Ozzie, Ozzie!

"Oi! Oi! Oi!"

There is much curmudgeonly criticism of Christmas. It is still a ritual that can unite us. Even in our screen based age, we need every communal ritual we can grab to enhance our social cohesiveness:

"Chrissie! Chrissie! Chrissie!

"Oi! Oi! Oi!"

What is your view?

Is Christmas an obsolete anachronism that should be banned or should we just assist it to change into new inclusive and/or secular forms?

Is Christmas so offensive to the non- Christian faiths we should ban it?

While we are on about banning things, should we ban "Oi! Oi! Oi!"?

How can we work a secular ceremony of annual review into the liturgy?

What do we do when Christmas coincides with tragedy and is consequently a turn off?

How do secular people, who do an annual review, deal with suffering in the absence of faith?

Over to you...


  • "The religious are affronted by the commercialism which takes the Christ out of Christmas"

    That's true Dick.

    But never lose sight of the fact that the Christians stole Christmas :)

    "Historically, people have always celebrated the winter solstice as the time when the days begin to lengthen, indicating the earth's return to life. Ancient Romans feasted and reveled during the festival of Saturnalia. Early Christians condemned these Roman celebrations--they were waiting for the end of the world and had only scorn for earthly pleasures. By the fourth century, the pagans were worshipping the god of the sun on December 25, and the Christians came to a decision: if you can't stop 'em, join 'em. They claimed (contrary to known fact) that the date was Jesus' birthday, and usurped the solstice holiday for their Church"

    A Merry Pagan Christmas everyone.

    Date and time
    December 17, 2012, 1:06PM
    • Ah yes "Wag the Blog".

      Set in AD30 or thereabouts spin doctor Cornad Bean (Robert De Niro) tries to distract public attention from a damaging King Herod sex scandal, by fabricating a cult uprising led by Hey Zeus (Woody Harrelson). Capers, hijinks and hanky-panky ensue.

      Great christmas movie. Its quite the romp.
      Right up there with "Bad Santa"

      zed - in his big flying head
      Date and time
      December 17, 2012, 1:09PM
      • Hi Dick,

        Some quick thoughts...

        Dick: What is your view? Is Christmas an obsolete anachronism that should be banned or should we just assist it to change into new inclusive and/or secular forms?

        An anachronism? When its Christianity, and by extension Christmas, has 2.2 billion followers. Please.

        And why would you ban Christmas? That would be irony - banning a religious celebration in an act of discrimination and intolerance when part of the 'evolution' of Christmas you refer to has retained the 'peace of earth and good will to all' attitude.

        What happened to option 3? Respect the beliefs of others and let them celebrate their religion as they wish without atheists imposing their world view on others.

        Dick: Is Christmas so offensive to the non- Christian faiths we should ban it?

        If you ask enough people you'll always someone who will find offended by anything. See above about respecting the beliefs of others.

        Dick: While we are on about banning things, should we ban "Oi! Oi! Oi!"?


        Dick: How can we work a secular ceremony of annual review into the liturgy?

        Once again you express a desire for religious liturgy while rejecting religion itself. You are a conundrum. The idea of an "annual review" is more a New Year's thing and not a function of Christmas - even under the 'evolved' secular version of it.

        Dick: What do we do when Christmas coincides with tragedy and is consequently a turn off?

        The answer depends whether Christmas is purely secular (in which case you'd probably avoid or limit the celebration) or religious (in which case you'd focus on that aspect and not the personal tragedy).

        Dick: How do secular people, who do an annual review, deal with suffering in the absence of faith?

        With time and psychiatry?

        Date and time
        December 17, 2012, 1:29PM
        • "Is Christmas so offensive to the non-Christian faiths we should ban it?"


          Is that a serious question, Dick, or were you just looking for a segue into the oi, oi, oi question below it?

          Geoff Edwards
          Date and time
          December 17, 2012, 1:32PM
          • Christmas is such a religious-free zone and so generic that it's hard to imagine why anyone would bother to object to it. I often wonder if those wishing others an insipid "Happy Holidays" rather than the specific "Happy Christmas" do so because they are so afraid of some imagined offense that just might be given. Does anyone know if any non-religeous or non-Christian folk have actually championed their local council to remove decorations or to not allow primary schools to have nativity plays? Or is it just some folks hell-bent on being seen as overtly PC who worry about this stuff? (Blimey, that sentence is fraught with danger isn't it? A blatant opening, as if one was needed, for a yet another comment on PC fundamentalism, sophistry and meditation. I'm really flirting with danger today!)

            I was angel in my kindergarten nativity play (oh er, some 43 years ago) and the experience didn't scar me. Apart from that minor moment of religiousity, my Christmases have always been free of Jesus and god. This year, for the first time ever, I'm commerce-free too! I haven't bought a single Christmas present, but I have donated to a few of my favourite charities.

            Merry Christmas to all! Whatever that means...

            Kate G
            Date and time
            December 17, 2012, 1:49PM
            • "The tail of this blog is much waggier than the dog"

              Start charging Dick!

              That'll sort the wheat from the chaff.

              Date and time
              December 17, 2012, 1:52PM
              • Events current and preceding give the impression of "rolling in the filth".

                And that's just the politics.

                J. Fraser
                Date and time
                December 17, 2012, 3:08PM
                • Hello Dick et al
                  i spent this morning writing the following.

                  Christmas in Tricia Town

                  I began to think
                  This year it would be easier
                  My grief is a gentler thing
                  I've lived the lessons of loss
                  Maybe I'm ready to rejoin the joy
                  I experienced the almost forgotten pull
                  Of the 'before' Christmases
                  Wandering around a big shopping centre
                  Singing loudly along with Christmas songs
                  That many loathed
                  But I delighted in
                  Selecting gifts for those I love
                  Even though the two most important people in my life
                  No longer have need of gifts
                  Nor the food I lovingly prepared for them
                  There'll be no one sneaking the pork crackling
                  As soon as my back is turned
                  The tears began to trickle
                  As I realised
                  There'll be no pork with crunchy crackling in my home
                  No dried apricot and sage stuffed turkey
                  No roast potatoes soft on the inside
                  Crisp and crunchy on the outside
                  My shopping centre wandering days are done
                  Many days I don't make it up the driveway to the letter box
                  Some days my body struggles to toss a simple salad
                  It's time to accept
                  My christmas cooking days are done
                  As I slowly come to terms
                  With my increasing limitations
                  I'm learning death doesn't own grief
                  It appears loss has more lessons for me
                  When it gets too tough
                  I wander via the keyboard of my iPad
                  And browse the snippets on YouTube
                  Today it's the outrageous Eric Idle
                  Who brings a little joy to my world
                  With his wonderful song
                  F**k Christmas
                  If you want to hear the song
                  That made this sad woman smile
                  Just wander over to You Tube
                  But if the title offends you
                  Maybe Christmas in Tricia Town
                  Isn't for you.

                  Tricia 12/12

                  Tricia Bertram
                  Date and time
                  December 17, 2012, 4:20PM
                  • cheers again Dick,
                    I've redefined the silly season, I just don't do it. If other people want to get self absorbed in overt consumerism, family blues etc then so be it.
                    For me it'll be a small picnic after the trip to Tassie at a Caravan Park. A nice bottle of Sparkling Shiraz and a small amount of food.
                    How Xmas has evolved is plain crazy. get themselves into debt then can't pay the bills when the credit card comes in.
                    February is always the worst for business and no doubt families when so many are broke. Yet do it all again next year?
                    I've never been christian(except as a very small child) so theres no spiritual connection and the evolution of mammon doesn't turn me on. The parents are deceased, kids grown up and OS. siblings I don't get on with.
                    So no relevance in my life, at all.

                    A country gal
                    Date and time
                    December 17, 2012, 4:59PM
                    • I love Christmas time, and it is even better with kids. They get so excited. Our community Christmas carols on Saturday night were great - I do wonder how enjoyable they would be if you thought it was all myth.

                      Suffering is not an easy question for people with faith or without. It is, however, of great comfort to know that this life is not all that there is, and that justice will prevail in every situation.

                      It seems to me terribly bleak to believe that this life is all that there is. That 99% of evil deeds will go unpunished, that loved ones will never be seen again. That suffering in this life has absolutely no purpose and just *is*. That if you are lucky the best you can hope for is to have less suffering than the average person.

                      Bleakness or lack there of does not necessarily mean something is true or not, but this view just seems very wrong to me - it just doesn't ring true.

                      Date and time
                      December 17, 2012, 5:01PM

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