I canít help it, but sometimes I just love it
when our dear old Church of England awakes from its slumber and gets its
cassocks in a twist over something. This time itís Birmingham Council whoíve
excited the bishops in a way not seen since the entertainmentís manager at the
Coliseum decided to combat falling ticket sales by putting the lions and the
Christians on the same bill. All the councillors have done is rename Christmas
"Winterval" on grounds of something called "multi-culturalism".
The thing is, theyíre right to change the name, but theyíve got the wrong
Everybody knows the story about the carpenter with
the pregnant wife who has to go to Bethlehem, canít find a room at the
Holiday Inn and beds down in a stable where his wife gives birth to a baby son
and . . .Well, you all know the rest, whether you believe it is up to you. The
problem is that this tale of deep midwinter and celebrating the birth of the
baby on 25 December owes at least as much to ancient spin-doctors as it does to
reality. What really happened is far weirder and far more fun because Herodís
census was in October, not late December.
Christianity has always been good at obliterating
earlier feast days with its own. Even if Easter and Passover usually donít
coincide because of a confusion of calendars, the crucifixion happened at
Passover and the celebration of the resurrection meant that converting Jews
didnít lose out on a major religious feast day. The Harvest Festival is
another one, only this time it replaced pagan celebrations of the autumnal
equinox. Which brings us to Christmas.
When the early Christians set about converting the
tribes of Northern Europe they hit a couple of unexpected problems. Unlike Jews
they didnít believe in a single god and unlike Romans, there was no one ruler
who could order an entire empire to convert, but a whole load of feuding
chieftains, each with his own agenda. In addition, the hangover from Judaism
about eating pork wasnít going to go down well in parts of the world where the
pig was so popular that theyíd even invented a way of using up the
unmentionable bits of entrails by mincing them up, stuffing it all into a
pigís intestine and frying it. In fact, in fifth century Germany there were
more types of pork sausage than days of the year.
As central to life as the humble porker, was a
midwinter blow-out at the winter solstice, so any bunch of religious zealots who
came along and said "sorry itís got to stop, but you celebrate the birth
of Jesus in October" were likely to end up as target practice. The
solution, as suggested by an early Christian PR consultant, was to give Jesus an
official birthday like the Queen and make damned sure it was pretty close to the
pagan midwinter piss up. Oh, and not worry too much about the eating of pork.
All this was fine when most people were Christians,
but with less than ten per cent of the population going to church, this business
of Godís sonís official birthday is a bit pointless. So I reckon we should
praise Birmingham Council, but forget this stuff about multiculturalism, what
Winterval is really about is us pagans getting our midwinter piss up back, even
if we have to celebrate it four days late.