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Has Christmas become a humbug?

By: Alan Murdock

  |  Posted: Wednesday, Dec 25, 2013 06:00 am

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Isn’t it fascinating that we are in the midst of a period of the year where Canadians have traditionally celebrated the birth of a baby who was born in the most peculiar circumstances. Governor Quirinius of Syria ordered the Hebrew tribes to become registered for the purposes of taxation. This was the Roman Empire’s first census. And so a carpenter and his pregnant wife went to a village called Bethlehem (the house of bread) and the birthplace of his forebear, King David. Their child was born in a stable and was found by some wandering wealthy stargazers who declared that he would grow up to be king of the Jews. King Herod, Quirinius’ lieutenant in Jerusalem, didn’t like what he heard and decided to slaughter all the recently born babies. Egypt got involved in providing that family refuge. The human carnage and cruelty in that part of the world continues to this day, especially in Syria.

We also, at this time of year, celebrate the end of the winter solstice. The most commonly used phrase in western terms is Yuletide. This is a Germanic based celebration which used to last somewhere around two months, between what is now mid-November to early January. Apparently things got out of hand in England by the mid 1600s. Oliver Cromwell, a man of strong religious convictions and a protester against the pomp of the Roman church, didn’t like it much as he considered it had become pagan. There was too much jollity, gift giving and wassailing for his liking. He abolished Christmas in the mid 1600s. Much of Europe followed suit and Christmas, as a public celebration, did not return until the Queen Victoria era two centuries later. Even then Ebenezer Scrooge, a prosperous businessman according to Charles Dickens, agreed with Cromwell and declared the Christmas was a “humbug” – a fraud, a hoax, a sham and a nonsense.

November has been a dilemma for the Walmarts and Costcos in Canada. We don’t celebrate Thanksgiving with the same fervour as our neighbours to the south. The Yanks keep spending going by becoming infected with Black Friday. Its contagious period is expanding rapidly. Black Friday now starts on Thursday and lasts until Monday. That’s when the online marketers hit the streets. It may seem odious to some to infect Canada with this commercial aberration. Still adopting Black Death Friday could give us a small window of relief from three months of pervasive Happy Holidays advertising.

So what can be done to bring sanity back to Christmas time and the Yuletide season? Historically, the majority of the secularized Christmas and holiday season falls during Advent, which begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas Day and continues to the Epiphany or the feast of the baptism of the infant Jesus. This fits with the Happy Holiday yuletide period in simultaneously marking the winter solstice. It is a perfectly sensible Canadian compromise. Ebenezer Scrooge would be pleased.

And it would allow us all to say, as Tiny Tim did – “God bless us, every one.” Merry Christmas.

Alan Murdock is a local pediatrician.


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