Karma & Christmas

In Glasgow last week, visiting a friend who lives in the city centre, it struck me that the pre-Christmas bustle, that we are all supposed to find inevitable, exhilarating and exhausting in equal measure, is fuelled by desire. Nowadays, fuelled principally perhaps for a personal desire to have ourselves a very Merry Christmas. The ingredients of this modern Merry Christmas are well known:

 

Necessary

1 lavishly decorated green or silver fir tree (preferably huge, dead or alive).

A large amount of objects (preferably new) colourfully wrapped in shiny paper, tagged with names of their new owners.

1 large warmed-over slaughtered animal (or equivalent) in the centre of a table (preferably large).

Several happy faces around the table (preferably laughing) wearing paper hats & pulling crackers.

At least 1 Significant Other, preferably cute.

An unnecessary amount of food, mostly fatty, starchy & sugary.

Copious amounts of alcohol.

Several hours of TV or equivalent (preferably nostalgic).

 

Optional

Carols (at the door/ fireside/ piano or in church).

Charades.

Brussels sprouts.

Woollen jumpers (sweaters in N. America) with large associated motifs.

 

Unnecessary (but expected) outcomes of this festive mix include:

Indigestion.

Family feuds.

Relationship break-ups.

Alcoholic poisoning.

Homelessness.

 

It is a central tenant of Buddhism that suffering is caused by desire. Even where this desire is not for personal enjoyment, there can still be such a stress nowadays on imposing this relentless and compulsory seasonal jollification on all persons falling within one’s sphere of influence.

Is it any wonder when it all goes horribly wrong?

A good friend whom I worked with on the Isle of Iona, is celebrating an unusual pastoral service this evening. At least, it’s unusual in the UK but not in the US and Canada where pastors felt they were failing people for whom Christmas was not at all merry.

The Longest Night/ Blue Christmas this evening is almost one of a kind in the UK and I’ve come down from Scotland to the lovely Shropshire village of Minsterly to visit Shalome and her husband, and to attend this service.

It’s been an interesting year. Actually it’s been exhausting. Looking after my elderly mother, rescuing my boyfriend from the clutches of the Home Office, writing a book on AIDS hypotheses, in rage and tears at the callous stupidity of governments and pharmaceutical companies.

Yes, when I return to Glasgow this weekend, I expect to have at least some of the ingredients of a merry Christmas. But I’m looking forward to the quiet honesty of this evening when Christmas can be allowed to be the deeply personal and very problematic time of the year that is not about distraction from the very human realities that challenge us throughout the year.

The Buddhist way is to let go, the Christian way is to let God. In both traditions we are each responsible, but not sufficient, for our own happiness – and in neither tradition is the pursuit of happiness the point.

Viktor Frankl reminds us that suffering can be transcended by finding its meaning but that this meaningfulness is different for each of us. This year for me has mostly been about saving lives. Perhaps, in the candlelight of the traditional Methodist chapel, another meaning may present itself to me. Something that may make it easier to accept and enjoy the merry bustle of these days and yet also be accommodating of the experience of those for whom Christmas is the dreaded low point of a bleak midwinter.

dark-branches-against-a-bleak-sky

Thanks to Lynn Greyling who has released her photo ‘dark branches against a grey sky’ into the public domain.

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Fascism & Families

At least this time of the year, TV nuclear families are a little more extended. There could be up to 12 people round the table noshing into some unfortunate fowl. That’s three times the usual number because, as we know, the usual number of family members is four. Three of these have blonde hair, one has black hair, all four are White and nominally Christian and preferably Protestant (even if evidently Jewish). We know this because this is how things have always been. Always and in every place. Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel; Abraham (and everybody else); Jesus, Mary and Joseph; all royal families and our own family. The one we all grew up in. It’s reassuring.

There are, it has to be admitted, certain types who have other ‘arrangements’. These people are usually foreigners, not nice, heretics, and noisy. Trains don’t run on time where they come from. In our TV town, neighbours greet each other and everyone leaves the door open. Even though they immediately plonk keys into a wee bowl on the wee table right next to the unlocked door. Well, we can’t expect TV to mirror reality exactly.

So where does this black haired White man with his Nordic spouse and offspring hail from? The answer’s in the question. The clues are an adjective and a verb. The verb relates to a greeting that was originally pronounced ave and in more modern times salve and heil. The adjective describes the location of this fascist fantasy.

Mediterranean fascists (normalised as black haired White men) fantasised about ‘raising the colour’ – that dreadful expression familiar to anyone with experience of colonial racism. Have you ever wondered why so many White women, as distinct from White men, feel the urge to dye their hair blonde? The black haired White husband with the blonde White wife and two Nordic children has become so normalised on TV portrayals of generic families that it’s now unremarkable.

Umberto Eco, in The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana, an archaeology of fascist family memory, shows just how explicit was the erasure of multicultural Mediterranean identity in children’s and adult literature sanctioned by church and state in Italy and Spain during the reigns of Mussolini and Franco.

This erasure continues today. Extended families are like unexpected gifts of puppy dogs. Just for Christmas. They have no place in today’s TV nuclear family. Fascist dictators may have initially encouraged large families, with the connivance of the Catholic Church, but family size can always be altered at the convenience of the state. ‘Two will do’ is a eugenic command that TV has obeyed.

So when you see a Mediterranean patriarch with his peachy Uberwife and a pair of apple cheeked children, think about all the households you know, with all their other arrangements. Think about how this TV fascist family makes them feel.

It’s not all tutti frutti, is it?

family-outing-vintage-painting

Thanks to Karen Arnold for releasing ‘public domain vintage painting of a family outing’ into the public domain.