Dame Louise Casey, the government’s “integration tsar,” cited Christmas in a report in September, saying: “I have become convinced that it is only the upholding of our core British laws, cultures, values and traditions that will offer us the route map through the different and complex challenge of creating a cohesive society.”
Laws of the land are one thing; British culture and traditions quite another. For the latter, apparently the “integration tsar” doesn’t believe in integration. Shouldn’t she be called the “assimilation tsar”—or perhaps even the “re-education tsar”?
As Santa Claus might say: Ho ho ho.
• A lot of Christmas traditions, like so much of British culture, came from elsewhere. To name a few: Christmas trees were likely a German idea originally; panto came from the Italian tradition of commedia dell’arte; mulled wine from the Ancient Greeks. The jolly, rotund image of Santa famously began in a 1931 Coca-Cola ad.
• “British values” are often described as religious, Christian values. But for the majority of Britons, Christmas doesn’t have much or anything to do with Christ any more. People of no religion now outnumber Christians in England and Wales, and this year the number of people attending Church of England services each week for the first time dropped below 1 million, accounting for less than 2 percent of the population. Non-Christian Britons are no less British.
• Having some sort of celebration in the dead of winter has long been appealing to many people whether religious or not. It was something people did long before the idea was co-opted by Christianity—and long before any politician uttered the phrase “British values.”
• One longstanding Christmas “tradition” is that for many, it’s a terrible time of year. If you are not living the soft-focus, pastel-hued fantasy life depicted in department store Christmas ads, you feel guilty, a failure, literally and metaphorically missing out on the party. Instead of this being a time of light, warmth, food, gifts, singing, laughing and good company, for many it is instead one of darkness, cold, hunger, loss, silence, tears and loneliness. Clients complain of the stress and expense of Christmas, and the pressure to be happy. The Samaritans volunteers are especially busy at this time of year.
Do it your way
Human unhappiness is often caused less by how things are than by a belief in how they “should” be. It turns out that a lot of those boxes we are so busy checking in order to lead what we presuppose will be a full life, with all the trimmings, actually belong to someone else. There is great joy in abandoning them, identifying your own and giving yourself permission to pursue them.
As Ralph Waldo Emerson put it: “To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest achievement.”
Those who presume to define “British culture” and impose it on people who are free to decide what that means to them can be just as oppressive as their opponents, the hardline advocates of “political correctness gone mad.” The two extremisms travel in opposing directions but meet on the far side of the circle, a rotten compost of fear, intolerance and fascism.
What has become known as “Christmas” doesn’t belong to Christians, the government, the Daily Mail, Facebook or John Lewis. It belongs to culture, the ultimate democracy. It belongs to you. So spend this time however you want to.
Observe it, or not. Make it religious if you want to, or don’t. Call it Christmas, or Yule, or Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or Saturnalia or something else entirely.
One great British tradition is to flout convention in the name of eccentricity. You want to celebrate by surfing through Canterbury dressed as Santa, or an Elf? Go for it.
Make Christmas yours.
Make your life your own.
May they be whatever you want them to be.