Our panellists battle it outby Simon Jenkins, Amanda Craig / December 10, 2015 / Leave a comment
Published in January 2016 issue of Prospect Magazine
Simon Jenkins—Columnist for the Evening Standard and the Guardian
Christmas has always been a challenge to the rational parent. It has long superseded Easter as the defining festival of Christendom. While Easter celebrates crucifixion and resurrection—fused with pagan rituals of spring and rebirth—feasting over a special baby has come to seem a more natural family event. Of the twin theologies, a crude shelter, a parent with child, and copious present-giving compose a more comforting myth than political murder. Splice it on to six weeks of rampant commercialism and the modern Christmas has become a secular festival, booming even as its origins grow insignificant for most celebrants.
It is best left that way. Like most non-practising Christians, I cannot remember when I “stopped believing” in baby Jesus and Santa Claus. My family was devout and said prayers at Christmas, but I have no recollection of any switch from belief to non-belief. I regarded, as I still do, such cultural traditions as integral to a British family and community. I also loved the specialness of the season, as I rather miss the one-time “specialness” of Sunday. What I vividly remember and try to maintain is the sense of occasion, the awe at the beauty of things and of music. As for belief, I rely on the little girl who, when asked if she still believed in Santa, said “Yes, but only for one more year.”
I therefore treat Christmas with a light touch. I would want children to know and understand the Bible story, as a component of their cultural underpinning. How else would they understand the majesty of western literature, painting and music? But I would “teach” the Christmas story only as what “some people” believe—or used to believe. Historical truth and scientific method are the rocks on which human reason must be based. Unreason in all its forms—however genteel—is the greatest menace to progress. Children should never be led down that path.