The film The Man Who Invented Christmas makes the big claim that Charles Dickens was its inspiration. It was his short novel, A Christmas Carol, published in 1843, that is said to have transformed a fading pagan tradition into a popular family feast.
Dickens also stressed that it should be a time of goodwill, charity, compassion and forgiveness, with the infant Jesus being replaced by a crippled child whose salvation depends on human rather than divine generosity.
From a secular viewpoint, in Ebenezer Scrooge’s redemption, Dickens demonstrates man’s ability to redeem himself. Yet, it would be wrong to say that Dickens alone invented Christmas. It is more accurate to say that he helped to revive what is a mongrel festival.
The truth is that Christians hijacked a pagan festival and used its traditions to decorate the nativity myth. Holly and ivy are derived from the Romans, mistletoe came from the druids, and Yule logs were lit in ancient Scandinavia to honour Thor, the god of thunder.
We should also stress that many Christians have themselves objected to these pagan intrusions at Christmas.
As for us freethinkers and humanists, some of us think it is a stressful and costly period; others welcome an opportunity to be with family and friends.
Does Christmas really make us more aware of man’s inhumanity to man and other animals? Does it make our local politicians more charitable and forgiving to one another?
Sadly, the world and Northern Ireland have still a long way to go to establish permanent peace and goodwill to all men. In this sense, if asked what we think of Christmas, we might reply: “It would be a very good idea.”