Tom Holland: Is it Christian to cancel Christmas?
Freddie Sayers spoke to the historian about the religious impulse behind it
Anxiety about Christmas being “cancelled” has been a staple in tabloid newspapers for decades — but according to writer and historian Tom Holland, it’s been around a lot longer than that.
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“Anxiety about that is in itself a very Christian tradition,” he told me in our LockdownTV Christmas Special (complete with crackling fire and stockings). “By the time you get to the Reformation in England, the Puritans in particular are very anxious about the way in which they see the Roman Church as having failed to root up the brambles and nettles of Paganism… The Puritans are the first people to draw up this thesis that Christmas celebrations derive from the pagan.”
The stereotype of Cromwell cancelling Christmas is not quite fair, says Tom, but the echoes were profound.
“One of the fascinations of this strangest of Christmases is that actually it does bring you quite close to what the Puritans were worried about. Just as people now who want to really rein in Christmas are doing it for the best of reasons, because it they think that it will save lives and be for the good of society as a whole, that was exactly the motivation of the Puritans… They were anxious that celebrating Christmas in a pagan way would doom those who did it to eternal death. It’s about health in both cases, a desire to not needlessly see people lost to death.”
But despite the Christian impulses behind many of the pandemic restrictions, the absence of the Church in playing a leading role in this pandemic has been new, and striking. Not only did they close their doors for the first time since the Interdict in the 13th century, church leaders have been remarkably absent from the discourse.
“The risk for the churches is that they come to seem like an eccentric and not very important sub department of the welfare state. The role played by bishops, the messages that they were giving, were basically public health messages — but if the church is going to play a distinctive role, that is inadequate… The point of them must be to talk about the idea that there is a purpose to this, that there is a dimension that lies beyond the merely physical — all the stuff that traditionally churches have talked about but which they now seem slightly embarrassed about.”
We covered his own faith, reflections on this particular Christmas, and the ongoing presence of the Christian influence in so much of this year’s events.
Thanks to Tom for a great discussion.
One of the few non-Christians who has no axe to grind but could give an accurate definition of Christianity!
Sorry Tom, whether it’s Christian or not is beside the point.
As the Grinch learned the hard way……
He HADN’T stopped Christmas from coming!
Somehow or other, it came just the same
I expected the BBC to be more in favour of cancelling Xmas.
The poor dears are forced by tradition to broadcast some form of Dickens story “A Christmas Carol” where there is a happy ending for an unconsciously biased, racist, white privileged member of the patriarchy – AKA Tiny Tim.
It must be awful for them ….
Remember their foul.Christmas Carol last year- worst thing I’ve ever seen on TV.
Fortunately didn’t see it – sounds like I got lucky ðŸ™‚
Religion is one’s systems of beliefs in ultimate matters. Ultimate being a key word, as in that which supersedes the mundane. It does not have to be a Theology with a god; Confucianism, Veganism, Dawkins and his evangelical Atheism, Daoism, Communism for the true believers, and so on also can be called religions under my definition.
And one would think a pandemic would be a blossoming of religious thinking. What is more ultimate than mortality, disruption of society, suffering, loss, and sacrifice. But no, it seems to bring none of that as secular humanism and Liberalism are the regular Western philosophy today, and holds no ultimate, more nihilism and solipsism than anything.
As a young man I spent years in solitary travels, living rough outdoors, often in true wilderness without any distractions like books or electronics. Just myself and thoughts. Mortality always was something I thought of, In nature it is all around you – the whyness of life and then death, society and social contract, morality and ethics, and suffering and what they could mean. I used to think this a normal part of growing up, the thinking of ultimate. Childhood was a time of learning rather than reflecting, and when adulthood is approaching we then were educated enough to suddenly notice the great wheel of life. Good and evil, ethics and morality, life and death, suffering and free will and so tried to figure what it meant. I do not think most modern young people go through this phase much, they lost religion for Liberalism, so do not believe in the ultimate, or even worry about it.
This writer made some good points about how charity, education, and Medical till quite recently were the duty of the Church. Then how these rolls have been Nationalized by the Government leaving spirituality to be replaced by bureaucracy. Clapping for the NHS and mask wearing with social distancing becoming the religious observance.
This covid event has astounded me by how much the thought and energy of most Westerners is about extending the lives of old and feeble by a few months at the cost of the young their education and jobs and socializing, their future for great numbers likely wrecked, made unemployable. Poor students rarely catch up from missed school – and this is a year. Not having starter jobs cripples many youth from getting on the employment ladder till late, and they never catching up.
Covid has had an earth shaking response, it may hand China dominance over huge tracts of the world, like Africa and East Asia, and even South and Central America. The West economies set back horrible so the young and working suffer, pensions crippled, houses lost, business lost, millions of jobs lost and millions of lives wrecked. But you never hear discussion of WHY this path has been chosen.
No studies made of cost/benefit of Person years lost, economies wrecked, and so on. And I think it is because of the losing of religion. No Ultimate exists. Reaction is all which counts. Our spirituality surrendered to bureaucracy and they naturally just want to do more of what ever it is they do without any worrying of what is of ultimate importance.
Tom Holland…you are right on the button!! The bishops have been conspicuous by their absence..they have merely been echoes of the NHS. Our souls deserve better …we need spiritual sustenance…not just a repetition of the current health guidance rules.
The assumption here is that the CofE are definitively Christian, the accusation of welfare statism maybe closer to the mark of the CofE being a Christian in name only state endorsed NGO.
The fall of the science as an absolute mantra that has been served to the general public is going to be of more consequence post pandemic than the abstention of the church during the pandemic.
Why are you even discussing this non-topic based on a chat with a discredited bigot who supports supernatural drivel? Enough already!
‘Discredited’. Translation: ‘I happen not to agree with him’. “Supernatural drivel’: Translation: ‘I don’t believe something, but am under no obligation to explain why. I am a sage to whom Truth is obvious and intend to denigrate anyone who offers an alternative explanation.’
Calling someone a discredited bigot in public is no small insult. Either Tom Holland is dreadful or you are.
Tom Holland says he is not a Christian. He is simply one of the few non-believers who understands Christianity.
why do you feel you get a say on what people want to discuss among themselves? No one is forcing you to participate.
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