At the Birth of Light

I love Christmas. The celebratory aspect, the cheer, the merriment, the baubles on the tree, the sparkling lights, the awareness of certain gifts that have come my way by no will of my own. Blessings, I suppose you could call them.

And I love the books, especially A Child’s Christmas in Wales and Briggs’ The Snowman and Winterson’s The Lion, the Unicorn, and Me.

And I love the movies — It’s A Wonderful Life, A Christmas Carol (from the Muppets to Scrooged), A Christmas Story, to all the Rankin Bass holiday specials, especially Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town.

And then there is the music: the Choir of King’s College, Handel, Tchaikovsky, Sting’s If On A Winter’s Night…, and the duet of Bowie and Bing’s Little Drummer Boy.

But I’m not religious.  I don’t go in for all this immaculate conception and the swaddling Jesus as the light of the world. Lovely metaphors. But still I doubt.

And it’s annoying how Christianity has claimed this season as its own creation when it is obvious to any human being that Christianity stole from the pagan winter solstice celebration. Nabbed nature’s unknowable and enigmatic power of giving us more light in this dark season. I understand how easy the heist must have been: it’s not too much of a creative leap to transform light into a symbolic and divine gift. In fact, as a writer, I respect the kind of imagination that made such a connection: the sun growing to its zenith; the birth of the son of God bringing new light.

It’s just frustrating how Christianity in its ignorance decided to stamp out the untamed pagan wisdom and replace it with a certain domestic piousness. Refused to acknowledge the source of its inspiration. (In writing, nobody likes a writer who refuses to pay at least some homage to the others writers and books that have got the fever of creativity going.)

To my mind, the pagans celebrated the wild, unkowable, unhuman, unpredicatable, chaotic, frenetic, passionate, and primal element in the universe that they saw the sun representing. This probably needed a change when viewed from human existence since it leaves us all just a little bit insignificant and trivial compared to such a mind-boggling power like nature, the universe, the great unknown. And what better way to battle this ambivalent universe than by creating a baby born in a manger. That act so quickly grabs our attention and places existence so firmly and materially and spiritually back in the human. I have no problem with this, I am human after all and need to be reminded of it.

It is the divine nature of this birth that has always bothered me. Why the desperate need to transcend this human existence? Isn’t this what divinity offers, a sense of getting as far away from the human as possible? But why? Why not celebrate our humanity?

In fact, if we want to really celebrate anything, then let’s celebrate our creativity this time of the year, and not some unknowable god. We are the ones who create. Not gods. The light comes back for us in so many ways. Why limit it to one baby in one manger?

That’s why I enjoy this time of the year; it makes me celebrate the best in us with the hope to transform the worst.

But not through divinity. Through a wild imaginative act!

This is what I want to celebrate: that metaphor can transform life from a sense of darkness to one of more light. This is worth celebrating. This is worth living for. Not piety, the holy, the divine, worship. Not even the bleak reality that the economic crisis has created because bankers decided to sheepshag us and bag us, the other 99, and then try to sell us as mutton. But the act of creative transformation.

That’s where the light resides this time of the year.

“Swift as a spirit hastening to his task
Of glory & of good, the Sun sprang forth
Rejoicing in his splendour, & the mask
Of darkness fell from the awakened Earth.” Shelley, “The Triumph of Life”