A Christmas Quarrel


For a rationalist and socialist—come to that, for anyone who enjoys such trifles as multiculturalism and equal rights—Christmas in the UK can be…jarring. There’s the nativities, yes, and the omnipresent consumerist excess. There’s the come let us adore him and the cash-drawer noise at the start of I Wish it Could Be Christmas Everyday. And then there’s the Queen’s Speech.

For those of you from Australia, or North America, or Mars, or however far it is one has to go to escape Queen Lizzie’s RP tones, ‘The Queen’s Speech’ isn’t a post-feminist remake of that Colin Firth movie, shot by the ‘herstory’ movement for the sake of balance. It’s a televised, pre-recorded Christmas day address by Our Liz, in which she imparts deep insightful heartwarming meaningless platitudes into the wide-gaping ears of her loyal subjects. Which according to my passport (I believe I’m entitled to an Irish one too, but my current little brown book is British), means me.

I never used to be overly riled by the monarchy. It’s wrong, that’s obvious. It’s wrong like an unelected House of Lords is wrong. Nobody is better than anybody else by right. The idea that a human being may turn to another human being and say ‘I am better than you, do as I say’ apropos of nothing but birth is essentially what every victory in Homo Sapiens’ patchwork history has been a victory against. Against apartheid, against slavery, against male-only suffrage. But the glitzy little instantiation of this idea sitting waving in Buckingham Palace has only recently managed to really get my goat.

Oh, let them be!, thought I—up to a point. Their powers are purely ceremonial, I reassured myself. Queenie wouldn’t ever refuse to grant an election. Besides, the tourist dollars her spoiled clan bring in probably dwarf whatever they suck from the public purse. But frankly, I’ve had it with that. Let the tourists buy Yorkshire pudding.

Maybe this flame was lit by the oily spectacle of this year’s Royal Wedding, inescapable even in the antipodes. Certainly it was fuelled by the Princess Anne debacle at my own university, an illustration of cronyist money-greased privilege so odious that the Student newspaper’s frontpage simply read, “A FUCKING DISGRACE.” The flame was fanned by the recent media suggestions that the ill-health of Prince Philip, a man whose public persona consists entirely of being a dickhead to anybody with the audacity to be foreign (except himself), was a matter for national concern, rather than for a sort of guilt-tinged schadenfreude.

And after this whole conflagration, there came the Queen’s Speech, which contained not a single abdication.

Well, that’s enough. They’re obnoxious. Stop them. If we must, if it would somehow ease the transition like those nice Allied forces in Baghdad did so successfully, we can let Liz live out her life. She does, at least, perform the bizarre role which life has allotted her with decorum and a degree of understatement. A few more years of the poshest rounded vowels humanly imaginable, and then Britain can quietly slide into being a republic with no real bother to anyone.

It’s the content of Lizzie’s little piece-to-camera – which you can watch below if you genuinely don’t have anything better to do, such as playing Bomberman or arranging your clothing by RGB code – which brings my ‘rationalist’ outrage in. For the most part, the Queen’s Speech dealt in the vague waffling mentioned above. In addition, there was a passing reference to the Brisbane floods, which I was shocked to realise happened only this year. But then, at the end, she suddenly went all Jesus.

The speech is flecked with a few religious moments, as indeed one might expect from a Christmas message by a Christian, who do tend to persist with the bizarre notion that they somehow own the day (not that it changes much, but even Wiki notes that the date of Jesus’ birth was unknown; the Christian connections of December 25th are lifted directly from previous Pagan faiths. Here, let Stephen Fry inform you). These moments, though, were fleeting and essentially harmless. Then, at the end:

It is my prayer that on this Christmas day we might all find room in our lives for the message of the angels and for the love of God through Christ our Lord.

I wish you all a very happy Christmas.

Remind yourself: this is nominally the monarch of the United Kingdom. The Head, albeit in a powerless, ceremonial way, of State. And she is telling her State, her State of 1.6m Muslims, 600,000 Hindus, 336,000 Sikhs, 267,000 Jews and 152,000 Buddhists (source), to find room in their lives for CHRIST THEIR FUCKING LORD. This, makes me angry. I’m not even so offended for the atheists, agnostics and aren’t-really-sures. They, for the most part, are going to be independently minded people who can take religious dogma and brush it aside with a bit of a giggle. But to be of another religion – and in many cases a first- or second- generation immigrant to these islands – and be told by the unelected Symbol of Britain with her term for life that your creed is lesser than ours. Convert, cries the missionary, to be one of us. One might call that unwelcoming. Resentment could quite justifiably result. It’s that same old problem, that same silly struggle, again. And we can’t even vote ‘em out.

I think I should say, before I seem so unseasonal as to resemble the plums in Tesco’s produce aisle, that I really like Christmas. Take out the Christ, obviously, and the mass as well, and you’re left with a delightful mashup of silly traditions, terrible songs, indoor trees, family reunions and the only rituals in the world more elaborate than me, Gareth and Patrick making coffee of a morning. Christmas is a night out with my mates on Christmas eve, piles of food, and then the awesome rite of present-giving, which satisfies both the altruistic and the selfish urges. And all the silly monarchs and silly religions in the world couldn’t stop that being a magnificent time.

So wherever and whoever and whatsoever you are, I hope your 25th of December was stuffed with all your favourite ceremonies, tinsel and fluff, and that your waistline is every bit as strained right now as mine. And I’ll leave you with a song by a man who feels much the same as I – a song which, the first time I heard it, brought me closer than I’d normally admit to tears.

Be glorious, all y’all.


7 thoughts on “A Christmas Quarrel

  1. Hi! I’m Kerry-found this on Cat’s Facebook. I really enjoy your writing, and I’m a socialist and a rationalist (much of the time). Awkwardly, I also happen to be a Christian; I’m quite secularist in a lot of ways, as I believe faith has no place in public life, but I would say that there aren’t many ‘people of faith’ I know who are stupid enough to believe Jesus was born in the middle of winter when it was probably February :). I actually really like the idea that the date was taken from our majority-Pagan surroundings. The cynic historian in me sees it as an attempt to convert people by giving them as much familiarity as possible in the theology of the Church, but I also see it as the ability to assimilate the ideas you see around you. I do think it’s understandable that we feel we own Christmas-it’s about something really important to us, and there don’t seem to be many meanings given to Christmas that are deeper than that. Of course, this is just my opinion, and I can also fully understand the arguments for atheism-it’s just that I choose to explain the things that human’s can’t fathom through the existence of God. As for the royals, I have very little problem with them other than the fact they’re unelected. As long as they stay out of public life it’s fine! Sorry for the long post…

    1. Hi Kerry, glad to see you on here–it’s always a pleasure when my writing trickles out to people I don’t personally know. Glad you enjoy it!

      I think one thing that’s sometimes hard for religious people, who regard religion as a source of hope and security, to see is how exclusionary it feels for others. And the thing with ‘owning’ Christmas is that if somebody owns something, then that means that other people DON’T (as a socialist, I’m sure you’re quite familiar with misgivings about the notion of ownership). Any time a Christian speaks about ‘THE true meaning of Christmas’ (definite article!) or hoping ‘we might ALL find room in our lives … for the love of God’, that naturally feels to a non-Christian as though we are being told that our Christmasses are less true than theirs, our experiences diminished: and that will never fail to leave a bad taste in the mouth.

      (Purely incidentally, I’m a little bewildered by your justifying your Christianity by recourse to the existence of God — isn’t that monotheism, rather than Christianity? Christianity means following the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, not just belief in a creator.)

      As for the royals, if they DID stay out of public life (and the public purse) then perchance I would agree. But when my university has a ‘princess’ as its illegally elected chancellor, and when the marriage of two probably fairly nice young people creates syrupy global hype, and when the monarch is nominally responsible for appointing the Prime Minister…well, they’re not exactly keeping themselves to themselves.

    1. (Author’s note: the peculiar thing about this comment is that it appears to come from a spam address, and yet is at least vaguely pertinent to the post. I’ve decided to let it through as an oddity.)

  2. Hey Aran! I just found your article. Because I’m a french student, I haven’t read everything yet. But still I’m quiet surprised by the quality of your writing. Not only, you’re very open minded on your world. I had a look on the wish of the Queen for Christmas and according to me, the Royals got involved a lot more this year compared with the last decades. Even in France, we see the soap opera of the royal marriage of Prince William and Kate. We see the Queen wandering in Australie among the ruins of the floods. Her visit is useless, albeit it is devoted to reinforce its popularity. I might stop telling crap (speaking english and dealing with such a burning issue is quiet a hardship!) and I should read the end of your lampoon.

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