Down with the PC Puritans! Politically Correct Zealots Must Not Be Allowed to Destroy the True Wonder of Christmas, Writes THE ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY

Article excerpt

CHRISTMAS was last under attack about 350 years ago. That was during Oliver Cromwell's Commonwealth - the only time Britain has had a military dictatorship-The problem then was that Christmas wasn't Christian enough.

The Puritans of that age were disgusted by the fact that Christmas was an excuse for parties and games. It wasn't even in the Bible, they complained - no one could know the real date of Jesus's birth, so there couldn't be anything special about December 25.

So the festival was made illegal.

You could be punished for celebrating Christmas Day. As a boy, I had a history book with very lively pictures and I can remember the illustration of Roundheads breaking into a house and carrying off a Christmas pudding, with the family in tears in the background.

The dictators of those days thought that Christmas was too human - too mixed up with people enjoying themselves, nothing to do with being faithful to the Bible. But the banning of Christmas didn't last long because human beings need to celebrate; we need holidays - periods when we can breathe a bit more deeply, when we can waste time and get to know once again the families and friends we haven't had time for in the ordinary round of work.

But the problem now is different. We still have a kind of Puritanism in our culture - think of the pressures for shops to open every day, even, increasingly, on Christmas Day. As if the one thing that mattered most for everyone was making money and justifying their existence.

But what makes some people suspicious of Christmas these days isn't that it's too human but that, in its traditional form, it's too religious. This year there seems to have been even more stories about the banning of Christian images and words by silly bureaucrats.

It's not the Christmas pudding that the authorities will be coming for but the Christmas crib if some people have their way. And it's all because of a quite wrongheaded idea that our neighbours from other religious traditions will be offended by Christian symbols. The truth is they're usually much happier with the idea of a Christian festival than with some general excuse to have a good time in midwinter.

But what would happen if a new dictatorship tried to make Christmas nothing more than a winter break, with no stories around it, no historic songs and pictures and memories? I think that, just as the Puritan attack on Christmas didn't last because people need holidays and enjoyment, so this new attack wouldn't last because people also need surprise and wonder. And the Christmas story is one that is all about surprise and wonder. Read the Bible and you will constantly hear about people being amazed, sometimes frightened at first; being driven to reflect deeply, and then wanting to tell everyone the extraordinary secret that's been shared with them.

WHAT happened at Bethlehem 2,000 years ago was a surprise. The people of the day were certainly expecting that God would soon step in to help them out of their troubles. What they weren't expecting was a baby.

It took a bit of time to get used to the idea that the way God had stepped in to help was by creating a human life so full of his own divine love that it showed through in every moment. The help God gave to the world wasn't by waving a magic wand but by speaking to us in our own language, sharing with us a world of struggle and suffering and changing things from the inside, not the outside. …