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Christmas as Religion: Re-thinking Santa, the Secular and the Sacred 

Deacy makes a good fist of challenging the misconception that Christmas has been emptied of its religious meaning as a result of secularism and consumerism


Christmas as ReligionChristmas as Religion: Re-thinking Santa, the Secular and the Sacred
By Christopher Deacy
Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2016
ISBN 9780198754565
Reviewed by Alec Gilmore

Redefining anything with as much custom and tradition behind it as Christmas is a daunting task. Identifying the line of demarcation between the sacred and the secular is no easier. Relating Christmas (as in church) to Christmas as in literature, drama, novels, films, radio and television for many would be a non-starter.

Deacy attempts all three and in coming to the conclusion that Christmas is not an expression of the Christian religion but a religion in its own right, and too important to be left to the churches who have too often hijacked it, he has no hesitation in carrying the war into the enemy camp.

Beginning with a survey of the origins of Christmas, Deacy summarises all previous patterns and variations up to the contemporary celebrations. These, he says, approximate in some ways more to a folk tale than a Christian festival, dating from Victorian times with Dickens, Scrooge and Santa plus carols as a secular narrative.

To those who decry the intrusion of the secular or are dismissive of secularised presentations, he acknowledges the convergence of the sacred and the secular (more blurred than we often imagine) and proceeds to explore the language of implicit religion, not to be confused with implicit Christianity. Implicit religion is not finding religious elements in secular events, but rather identifying religion outside traditional norms and only then spotting their religious significance.

To take one example (others are literature, novels, drama, radio and television), many of the films which dominate the Christmas period have a distinct emphasis on the supernatural, and offer an escape from life in order to return to it refreshed (not unlike Christian worship). They invite us to appreciate Christmas as a celebration of a quite different but nonetheless valuable set of values otherwise often overlooked in the festive season.

Readers will differ as to whether he has succeeded, but he is certainly to be congratulated on the attempt and has made a good fist of it, not one bit of which should be swept aside. Indeed, much could enrich Christmas as we know it and undermine too many cliches which occupy the stage annually from Advent to Epiphany. Turkey with the trimming! Good food, well chosen, carefully cooked and attractively served up.

For some stomachs, however, digestion may take time and be uncomfortable, and like all strong drinks will need to be taken in sips rather than gulps and (always) 'with a little water'.

 
Alec Gilmore is a Baptist minister



 

 

 

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