BY ANASTASIA CHOO
The official turning on of the Christmas street lights in Oxford Street is the starting pistol for me to organise Christmas, my favourite time of the year. It starts with the Christmas card list and my children getting excited about filling their Operation Christmas Child shoe-boxes for the Samaritan’s Purse.
I enjoy writing out my Christmas card list, choosing which card design and handwriting a short message to friends and family. Especially, with Christmas carols playing in the background and a glass of wine near at hand, it marks the beginning of the festive season and for me it’s a sign of intent that it will be a Merry Christmas.
Rest assured, I don’t inflict Round Robin letters on anyone, although we do have a friend from Surrey who sends us hilariously funny commentary on the wonderful year that he has had down to his bowel movements, but I’ll save this for another day.
We exchanged greetings and messages of goodwill face to face before the first commercial Christmas card was sent in 1843. This was commissioned by innovator Sir Henry Cole, who three years earlier had invented the Penny Post. He wanted to send pre-printed Christmas greetings to friends and renowned illustrator John Calcott-Horsley designed a triptych. Each of the two side panels depicted a good deed – clothing the naked and feeding the hungry. The centre piece featured a party of adults and children with plenty of food and drink. Neither Cole nor Horsley had any idea of the impact the first Christmas cards would have on Britain, later the USA and around the world. By 1880 the manufacturing of cards became big business, creating previously unknown opportunities for artists, writers, printers and engravers. From this sprung the invention of Charity Christmas cards which also became big business, with figures of half a billion sent each year at their height.
Around this time of year, we will also see numerous articles either with a “Bah humbug” approach to Christmas giving us advice on how to survive the festive season or articles reminding us how the message of Christmas has been lost to commercialism, that we are becoming a secularised state; the number of Church goers dwindling. A recent analysis by the Pew Research Centre in the US suggests that here in the UK, if current trends continue, the proportion of the population identifying themselves as Christians will fall from 64% in 2010 to 45% by 2050, while the proportion of Muslims will rise from 5% to 11%. Incidentally, religious minorities are quite comfortable to talk about religion yet we Brits tend to shy away from Christianity for fear of being labelled a “Bible-basher.” We hear of Councils banning the theme of Christmas or using the words “Season’s Greetings” instead of “Merry Christmas.”
The CEO of the Samaritan’s Purse, Rev Franklin Graham, has been accused of stirring up Islamophobia with his remarks about Islam being a “religion of war.” He made these comments in 2001 shortly after the 9/11 attacks. He has also been criticised for enticing children to evangelism through shoe boxes filled with toys as he talks of bringing “the hope of Jesus Christ into the lives of over 100 million underprivileged children.”
The Guardian’s Giles Fraser attacked the project in 2003:
“Schools and churches that are getting their children involved in Operation Christmas Child need to be aware of the agenda their participation is helping to promote. There is, of course, a huge emotional hit in wrapping up a shoe-box for a Christmas child. But if we are to teach our children properly about giving, we must ween them off the feel-good factor.”
Another Leftist leaning publication, The New Statesman, added their voice recently and queried if Operation Christmas Child is just a propaganda tool for Christianity: “Operation Christmas Child are to charity what Femen are to feminism: superior, Islamophobic, seemingly unresponsive to the needs of those they claim to help.”
These cynical accusations reduce the Christmas Shoe-box initiative to nothing more than Christian propaganda under the guise of generosity. Yet they fail to acknowledge the important outcome: a happy child whose December has been made better.
The CEO may have made remarks about Islam in the wake of the 9/11 attacks but the message conveyed by the Operation Christmas Child is “the hope of Jesus Christ into the lives of over 100 million underprivileged children.”
This is neither Islamophobic nor is it preaching hate. It promotes Christianity and the birth of Jesus – the reason we celebrate Christmas in the first place.
People in Britain should not feel ashamed of Christianity. Many minority communities are very comfortable with their faith and at ease with articulating what they believe, because religion is still very important in those communities. So why do other Brits find it so difficult to talk about religion?
Most of the Mums I know don’t have any issue with Operation Christmas Child and think it’s a wonderful idea to teach our kids to give before they start their Christmas wish list. Non-Christians also get involved in their own way and, whilst they may not celebrate the religious aspect of the day, they will certainly join in with parties and exchange gifts.
What kind of smug liberal begrudges children a little Christmas cheer? What kind of privileged fool puts their precious principles ahead of a poor child’s joy on Christmas day? Somewhat “Bah humbug,” no?
I’ll leave you to ponder, I’m in the mood to do my Christmas cards and carols… alongside a humongous glass of red.