(Published in the Malay Mail 23 December 2013)
It’s that time of the year when the Santa hats come out… and everyone is ready to party.
How have I reached this level of madness? Everyday, starting from late November, the Christmas-to-do-list raps on my door with yet another chore. Fill advent calendar! Send Christmas cards! Buy tree! Buy presents; buy more presents; wrap presents; post presents! Christmas work parties! School Santa parties!
Today, I spent the entire morning at the butchers buying festive meats (in my Fren-glish), and then the afternoon preparing them. By the time I got to stuffing 50 odd prunes with a port and foie gras paste as “stuffing” for the Christmas goose, I found myself adding a little port to my empty teacup…
Why do we do it? What is “Christmas” really about? I guarantee that few who mark this Christian holiday will say they’re celebrating the birth of God’s son, Jesus Christ, unless of course they’re wearing a rosary and habit. Giving, seeing family and friends, yes, but for most, Christmas has no religious attachment anymore. Such is the case for me, despite my strong Roman Catholic upbringing; those suffocating Sunday masses and dreaded trips to the confession box are all but a distant memory.
Look, if Jesus pitched up today for his “Christ’s mass” as it was once called, he’d throw a complete wobbly. Its commercialization as gone into ungodly overdrive. Retailers and advertisers know what makes his birthday merry: lego advent calendars, new iPad Airs and real Christmas trees — “Sapins de Noël” as they are called here cost €100 a pop. And the reach of America, the Queen of Christmas consumerism, here in Paris is impressive with iTunes radio running half-hourly Macy’s adverts telling me how to: “Be the best Santa EVER this year…by buying Macy’s star gifts.”
On the subject of that God-fearing nation, are you as baffled as I about the recent Santa Claus debate? Moronic Fox News’ Megyn Kelly posed the question: “Is Santa Claus black?” It sent late night comedians like (my favourite) Jon Stewart and co., on a “War on Christmas” feeding frenzy. As if turning “Merry Christmas” into the politically correct, religiously all-encompassing “Happy Holidays” wasn’t nauseating enough, now they are debating the racial origins of Santa. Who cares? He can be any colour so long as he squeezes down my French-petite cheminée to stack our front room ceiling-high with pressies, thus ensuring the holiest of wide-eyed expressions from my kids on the 25th December. Although if you ask me, Santa is neither black nor white, but olive-coloured, for he, or rather, Saint Nicholas he’s modelled on, was Greek.
There you have it, that white-bearded fella and his nine joy-bearing reindeers get more press coverage nowadays than Jesus himself; how is the super-cool, right on, Pope Francis going deal with that one?
Any nativity scene will show you that Jesus was born in a stable, in a manger of hay, no obstetrician to administer an epidural or midwife the vaseline, just a crowd of gormless, bleating farmyard animals. Such humble beginnings, but where has it taken us 2000 years on? I tell you where it’s taken us, even Christians who are non-believers or non-Christians full stop have jumped on the Santa-chariot, and are this very minute lapping up every scent of Christ’s modern mass there is; can’t you smell the gingerbread cooking?
It is for this reason that I actually love that Malaysians debate the meaning of their faith (whichever faith they may follow) with such fervent passion, column after TMM column. Don’t let anyone, particularly Macy’s, repackage it in an expensive red silk ribbon. It’s not for sale.
Just look at us in Britain. Half of us claim to have “no religion” and devout Catholics are “a rare and endangered species”, according to the recent findings of a two-year study by Lancaster University http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/17/opinion/malik-british-catholics-quandary.html?_r=0. Professor Linda Woodhead, who led the study, says that few British believers look to religion as the primary source of moral guidance, but follow their own intuition or the advice of family and friends. And just one in ten seek guidance from God, a religious leader or a holy script. The one religion that bucks the trend is Islam, British muslims tend to have a strong religious affinity.
I don’t have a problem with my lack of faith, but I do like to follow traditions. Despite feeling knackered, stressed, and quite possibly broke, I’m still on track for Christmas. Festive menus for the week have been set, although that was before the bread board slipped out of the hubby’s hands onto the top-the-range induction stove of our rented house last week. It looks pretty, like a spider has spun its intricate silk web over its glass top.
Cold meat salad anyone? Or perhaps the madness will stretch to run-the-hot-veg-gauntlet-and-risk-electrocution game? I wonder what the in laws