Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Christmas’

Thinking of Bethlehem at Christmas

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 25th December, 2017

8751E2A9-3354-405F-911C-FDFAE85020C3I’ve never really been “into” the traditional British Christmas, partly because my adoptive parents (who I disliked anyway) had taken to spending their winters in South Africa when I was still a student, but also because of the tackiness of the festival’s commercialisation, which in London now begins in mid-October. Christmas carols set my teeth on edge and I resent the fact that American Christmas songs have achieved a global hegemony. Happy Holidays! Bah, humbug! I always make sure I am travelling over Yuletide. OK, gripe over. Let’s get down to the serious stuff. One of the things that attracted me to the Quakers, after I fled the uncomfortable fold of Anglicanism, was that Christmas and other religious celebrations, such as Easter, were not given special significance. All days should be equally spiritual, as well as a cause for celebration. I know many of the pilgrims and tourists who go to Bethlehem find visiting the Church of the Nativity there an uplifting experience, but for me it is the living, breathing town of Bethlehem itself that has more of an impact. I have seen it in good times and bad, crowded and deserted, and am distressed by the way that is increasingly being cut off from Jerusalem and nearby Arab towns by the continuing illegal Israeli settlements and that terrible Wall of Separation. This year is the 50th anniversary of the Occupation, longer even than the Soviet occupation of the Baltic States. The birth of Jesus has been heralded over two millennia as a message of hope, but it is hard to find much hope in Bethlehem today. How much longer must the Palestinians suffer before they are granted the dignity of statehood and genuine independence that should be the birthright of all humankind?

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Keeping Christmas Special

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 24th December, 2015

nativity sceneOver the past few days, Brunei, Somalia and Tajikistan (to name only those I have spotted in the news) have banned celebrating Christmas. To that list one can of course add Saudi Arabia, where Islam is the only permitted religion. I find it sad that the Islamic fundamentalism — much of it promoted by Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabi imams — should lead to such prohibitions. After all, Jesus is a prophet recognised in Islam as well as in Christianity. I have spent several Christmases in more inclusive Gulf countries such as the UAE and there it is not just the Christians who enter into a spirit of celebration.

church congregationThis year I am spending Christmas in Rwanda, which is a predominantly Christian East African country, mainly Roman Catholic. Last night in the market near my hotel there was a brisk trade in artificial Christmas trees and associated decorations and it was only last night that the hotel started playing Christmas music in the restaurant. That struck me because that’s how Christmas used to be in Europe and North America: arriving suddenly and offering just a few days of merry festivities. These days, alas, thanks to commercialisation, that sometimes magical intensity has been lost. The shops are full of Christmas merchandise in October, Christmas lights go up in major high streets at the end of November and stay up well into January. Everyone is encouraged to consume as much as possible for as long as possible, including food and drink, until we are physically and mentally bloated and desperate for Christmas to be over. That’s a pity, as Christmas should be a significant occasion, both spiritually and as a time to be close to loved ones, whether family, partners or friends. Perhaps in the West we need to remember how to make Christmas special, and keep it that way.

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Little Christmas Joy in the Middle East

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 23rd December, 2014

imageAs hundreds of millions of people around the world prepare to celebrate Christmas, spare more than a thought for the Christians of the Middle East, for many of whom 2014 has been a dire year. Two of the most vibrant Christian communities, in Iraq and Syria, have been traumatised by violent conflict, dispossession and displacement. And in Israel/Palestine, the fount of the faith, Christians are feeling under ever greater pressure to leave. The brutal Israeli onslaught on Gaza may be over, but its effects are still there, and in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem Christians and Muslims alike continue to suffer from the excesses of the occupying forces and the more extreme fringe of Israeli “settlers”. The symbolic confrontation between Palestinians dressed as Santa Claus and IDF soldiers has become almost ritualistic, but there is nothing joyful in the real gulf that still separates the people in the Holy Land. The rise of ISIS has undoubtedly made things worse across the Middle East and North Africa as a whole, but no one actor in the region’s turmoil is to blame alone. If Christians are to have a future in the Middle East, as they should, along with the other two Abrahamic faiths, then there needs to be a massive change of heart among political and religious leaders, as well as ordinary people, and an acknowledgement that what unites us all should be much stronger than that which divides.

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