Belfast Telegraph

Friday 19 September 2014

Merry Christmas, war is over (unless you live in Bethlehem)

You can start to relax now. It's almost over. But here's a few random thoughts to fill the desolate hours between waking up tomorrow morning and slumping into sleep by early afternoon.

There used to be Easter, Halloween and then Christmas. But now the Christmas lights start glowering from the shop windows weeks before the Derry drink-fest has even cleared its throat.

Why don't they just leave them up now until next year and save themselves a lot of trouble?

Christmas is commonly promoted under the slogan 'Peace on Earth', but seems to have become an occasion for celebrating war.

On Monday, ITV broadcast the Sun-sponsored 'Military Awards' ceremony at which young people who had suffered horribly in the useless conflict in Afghanistan were patronised by members of the Royal and Murdoch families for the entertainment of the masses.

Next week, the victims might be given compensation which will work out at a dozen eyes and a hundred legs per banker's bonus, while someone with a vaguely similar name in the next shire will be left reeling with panic at receiving a postcard from Gordon Brown expressing condolence.

Still, wars apart, the three-month run-up to Christmas does give ample time to spend money hand over fist and eat, drink and carouse in the streets to orgiastic excess, which is what Christmas is really about. Christmas has nothing to do with religion; certainly nothing to do with Christianity.

Christmas is a celebration of the achievement of making it through to the moment when we can turn the cold corner of winter and set our faces again towards the warmth of the sun and the miraculous rebirth of life, the moment we can shout joy to the world, forget frugality, break out the stores and share what riches we have with family, tribe, whomever.

That's what the festival of the solstice signified for a thousand generations before the Christ child was a twinkle in the Holy Ghost's eye.

Luke says that Jesus was a Nazareth lad, but originally came from Bethlehem. Matthew just says he came from Bethlehem. Luke came up with the yarn of the family living in Nazareth, but having to travel to Bethlehem for a Roman census.

The problem with this is that there is no evidence that the Roman Empire ever required subjects to travel to their ancestral homes for a census. A moment's thought exposes the idea as ridiculous.

Jesus's lineage is even more problematical. Luke and Matthew give somewhat differing accounts of who begat whom, but trace the paternal line back to David.

Both then misappropriate the myth of the virgin birth of a god in winter from the Syrians (Adonis), the Greeks (Dionysius), the Egyptians (Osiris), the Persians (Mithras), the Phrygians (Attis) and so on, ignoring the rather obvious fact that the virginity of the mother makes all that Jewish begetting irrelevant.

How about this from the Persian Zend-Avesta, compiled hundreds of years before New Testament times, telling of a prophecy to Zoroaster: "You, my children shall be the first honoured by the manifestation of that divine person who is to appear in the world. A star shall go before you to conduct you to the place of his nativity, and when you shall find him, present to him your oblations and sacrifices, for he is indeed your Lord and an everlasting King."

But Christmas is indeed coming to Bethlehem - and so is a host of vengeful thieves.

The Hebrew-language daily Ma'ariv reports that the Israeli ministry of the interior has approved the construction of 14,000 housing units on three square kilometres at the edge of the town. The land is owned by Palestinians in the Bethlehem suburb of Al-Walaja, already hemmed in by the settlements of Gilo and Gush Etzion.

The settlements are illegal in international law, but, as per usual, there has been no outcry from what is laughably known as 'the international community', much less threats of sanctions or hints of military action.

Many of the Palestinian homes in Al-Walaja, says the interior ministry, were built without licences from the Israeli authorities, so they can 'legally' be demolished and the families living in them tossed onto the roadside.

Bethlehem is already sliced into bits and criss-crossed and encircled by Jewish colonies, military roads, Jews-only roads, fences and walls, the colonies merging as they expand towards one another, gradually enclosing Bethlehem into greater Jerusalem. Within a decade, as things are going, the little town of Bethlehem may be engulfed and finally gone.

Locally-born writer Mike Odetalla observes: "Young mothers-to-be are forced to stand endless hours at checkpoints manned by teenage Israeli soldiers who not only lack compassion, but simply could not care less about the plight of a woman in labour.

Many women have given birth in taxis, or in the streets which are choked with dust in the summer and swimming with mud in the winter . . . Too many children and mothers have died from lack of medical care and failure to be allowed to pass in a timely manner."

Maybe some of them will find a manger to doss down in and give birth.

Have a safe, happy day for yourself and your family, despite all.

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