Simon Jenkins, the veteran British journalist who writes for The Guardian, offered a wonderful reflection last year on why the annual Yuletide celebration retains its power in our cynical age – all the more powerful considering Jenkins himself is an unapologetic atheist:
Cleared of its commercial and religious clutter it has become the nation’s collective version of a Buddhist sabbatical, an increasingly extended retreat into family and self almost devoid of externalities. It is a time when Britons behave quite unlike they do for the rest of the year. In other words, they behave quite well. …
Suddenly all goes quiet. … The volume of public life is silenced. Family is acknowledged before colleagues and friends. Duty is paid to household gods in an annual census of filial piety. Family quarrels are supposedly suppressed, while children and old people acquire a brief moment in the spotlight. We know of the strains and stresses of Christmas, but I wonder how many families have been repaired and rescued through its ritual kindnesses. What if there were no such moment?
For the more religiously inclined, Pope Benedict XVI published a Christmas commentary in the Financial Times on Dec. 20 – the first time a pontiff has ever contributed to a secular newspaper’s opinion page. It comes the same month the Pope joined Twitter. An excerpt:
The birth of Christ challenges us to reassess our priorities, our values, our very way of life. While Christmas is undoubtedly a time of great joy, it is also an occasion for deep reflection, even an examination of conscience. At the end of a year that has meant economic hardship for many, what can we learn from the humility, the poverty, the simplicity of the crib scene?
Christmas can be the time in which we learn to read the Gospel, to get to know Jesus not only as the Child in the manger, but as the one in whom we recognize God made Man.
It is in the Gospel that Christians find inspiration for their daily lives and their involvement in worldly affairs – be it in the Houses of Parliament or the Stock Exchange. Christians shouldn’t shun the world; they should engage with it. But their involvement in politics and economics should transcend every form of ideology.
And on a lighter note, did you know the late but still ubiquitous Yuletide orchestra-leader Ray Coniff was born and raised in Attleboro? He played trombone in the AHS band, I discovered a few years ago.
• Related: Rhode Islander Moore wrote ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas’ (Dec. 24)