Good News, Fake News, and the truth about Christmas.

My mother in law fell down a wishing well. I was amazed. I had no idea they worked” went one of Tommy Cooper’s favourites jokes. Such bad taste. So unkind to Mothers in law. But one of the things jokes do is tell truth to power, and some mothers in law wield a lot of power. 

 

Freud thought one of the reasons we needed jokes was because humour is a way of telling the truth when you can’t tell it directly.

 

The stand up comic Konstantin Kisin had a shock when he was being signed up for a gig at the University of London (SOAS). He had to sign a snowflake agreement and not tell any jokes that were considered to include “racism, sexism, classism, ageism, homophobia, biphobia, transphobia, xenophobia, Islamophobia or anti-religion or anti-atheism.”

 

He cancelled the gig because, as all comics know, all jokes contain a bit of healthy truth, taking down people and ideas who have got above themselves or who are in some way abusing their power.

 

There are many vested interests who don’t tell the truth. My ‘favourite’ this month was Brighton and Hove City council ordering teachers to tell primary school children that “boys have periods too”, on the grounds that “menstruation must be inclusive of all genders.”

But let’s not go there for now, and instead keep this seasonal. 

 

The media and the Post Office have not been telling the truth about Christmas stamps.

 

It was being claimed that since no one was taking up the choice to buy what they called ‘religious’ stamps, this Christmas, there was pressure to phase them out.

 

So I went to the Post Office yesterday to buy my Christmas card stamps and asked for the ‘religious ones.’ “We don’t have any. They were never delivered to us,” came the reply; and waving a flashy tinsel one at me- “I can sell you some Christmas ones instead.” 

 

I tried to stop myself explaining that Christmas was actually about the Christ-child more than it was a festival for tinsel. Chaqu’un a son festivale, maybe.

 

The low take up of Christian stamps at Christmas was because the Post Office was failing to send them out.

 

This telling the truth stuff is important. Life is hard enough without dealing with disinformation. And more important than telling the truth about Christmas stamps is telling the truth about Christmas.

 

For years there has been a steady drip-drip of disinformation about the date of Christmas not marking the real date of Christ’s birth. “Oh the Christians just nicked a competing pagan festival – who knows when Jesus was born, or even if he was born goes the perpetual refrain.”

 

Well we do know. Here’s the factual trail. The angel announced the birth of John the Baptist to his dad when his dad was on his tribe’s temple shift. Zechariah was a priest of the class of Abijah (Lk 1.5) which was the eighth of the 24 priestly classes. (Neh.12.17). Each class served one week in the temple twice a year.

 

The Abijah class had their turn during the 2nd week of the Jewish month of Tishri, the week of  Yom Kippur- the Day of Atonement, as it happens. In our calendar, that fell between September 22nd and the 30th. John would have been born at the end of June- (tradition says the 24th-his Feast day).

 

St Luke (who wrote about 65 AD. some time at least before the Romans trashed Jerusalem in 70 AD.) tells us that the Archangel Gabriel toldMary that Elizabeth (John the Baptist’s mother) was six months pregnant with John (Lk 1.36), so we know what we call the Annunciation happened at the end of March. Add the statutory nine months on to the end of March (or the 24th) and you get December the 25th.

 

The records of Christmas being celebrated on December 25th go back to St Telesphorus, who was the 7th bishop of Rome (born in 115 AD) when the early Christian communities were still hiding in the catacombs.

 

As for stealing the date from pagan festivals every month was stuffedwith them. They couldn’t be avoided. And the claim that December the 25th was chosen to compete with the Festival of Sol Invictus, the unconquered sun, just isn’t true.  That wasn’t made an official festival until 274 AD.

 

So yes, Jesus was born on December 25th and you will be celebrating his birthday consciously or not on Christmas day, that great festival in celebration of tinsel, according to the UK Post Office.

 

There is something humorous about Christmas too though, almost a joke. The story goes that instead of trying to subvert our pride, greed, hubris, violence, and selfishness with a demonstration of power planted on a platform of prestige aimed at terrifying the human heart into submission to mend it, he slipped in quietly in the most gentle, vulnerable and unobtrusive way possible, wrong footing all our expectations. He chose to use the banana skin of love under our feet instead of a show of moral force to our minds.

 

Tinsel doesn’t quite carry the same message of hope or transformation.

 

 

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