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In previous years, on my blog post I reflected on The true message of Christmas whilst my colleague Paula Bowles reflected on a modern version of “A Christmas Carol” for the twenty-first century. This year I shall be reflecting on the festive sounds that underpin the meaning of Christmas. Have we ever considered what lies beneath?
As “It’s the season to be jolly” and all of us feel “joy to the world” because “Born is the King of Israel” so “Glory to the new-born King” “And in his name all oppression shall cease”. Carols are festive tunes that play on the radio, the shops and even some people humming them on the lifts on their way to work. Little catchy tunes* that bring smile to those who hear then, teach them to their children and even heard during the festive meal at Christmas. Some of these tunes are a seasonal staples that signify the start of an ever-expanding Christmas season and can be heard in shops as early as October. Clearly the memorable tune makes it a great aid to remind people that they will need to spend more so that they can feel more involved in the joy that is professed in the lyrics.
These songs are so ingrained into our collective Zeitgeist that they need no introduction regardless of our religious affiliations, views on faith and spiritual beliefs. Why are they so important and what do they signify? The obvious is, their theme. A somewhat religious message regarding Christmas. It is almost ironic that behind that festive, joyful message there are some dark undertones.
The first carols appear during the Roman Empire, apparently inspired by Ambrose, the popular Bishop of Milan, who during his tenure oversaw the stopping of an entire sect of Christianity from disappearing. His fame grew even further when he banned emperor Theodosius the I from entering the cathedral after the latter massacred thousands of people from Thessaloniki in an uprising. He asked the emperor to do penance for his actions, thus setting a judicial jurisdiction over all men. Clearly, he had a strong sense of justice, arguably reserved solely for those that agreed with his world view and dogma as he was against mixed marriages (people of different races and faiths), heretics (any kind) and of course Jews, setting an anti-Semitic ghost over Europe that haunt us to this day.
In later year, carols became a symbol of difference between the Catholics and Protestants with the Protestants having more of a taste for the cheerful music notes of the carols. Those divisions carry the pains in many parts of the world, including the Emerald Isle that suffered from conflict for centuries. Carols became the reaffirmation of a more “pleasant” Christianity when the puritans moved on and took their dour faith across the ocean.
So now after all those centuries of persecution and conflict, many of those have been forgotten and carols now are nothing more than a jingle that acts like a Pavlovian reminder to the new faithful on the way to worship in the modern cathedrals in Malls and Outlets. Maybe next time we hum any of these carols we should spend some time to reflect on their history and perhaps reconcile their past by changing our attitudes.
The Thoughts from the Criminology Team wish Happy Holidays to all.
Verses included from “Joy to the World”, “O Holy Night” “The First Noel” “Hark The Herald Angel Sings”
*I am not too sure if you can still smile after hours of hearing the same tunes over and over as some people do who work in retail.
The build up to Christmas appears more frenetic every year, but there comes a point where you call it a day. This hiatus between preparation and the festivities lends itself to contemplation; reflection on Christmases gone by and a review of the year (both good and bad). Some of this is introspective and personal, some familiar or local and some more philosophical and global.
Following from @manosdaskalou’ recent contemplation on “The True Message of Christmas”, I thought I might follow up his fine example and explore another, familiar, depiction of the festive period. While @manosdaskalou focused on wider European and global concerns, particularly the crisis faced by many thousands of refugees, my entry takes a more domestic view, one that perhaps would be recognised by Charles Dickens (1812- 1870) despite being dead for nearly 150 years.
One of the most distressing news stories this year was the horrific fire at Grenfell Tower where 71 people lost their lives.  Whilst Dickens, might not recognise the physicality of a tower block, the narratives which followed the disaster, would be all too familiar to him. His keen eye for social injustice and inequality is reflected in many of his books; A Christmas Carol certainly contains descriptions of gut wrenching, terrifying poverty, without which, Scrooge’s volte-face would have little impact.
In the immediacy of the Grenfell Tower disaster tragic updates about individuals and families believed missing or killed in the fire filled the news channels. Simultaneously, stories of bravery; such as the successful endeavours of Luca Branislav to rescue his neighbour and of course, the sheer professionalism and steadfast determination of the firefighters who battled extremely challenging conditions also began to emerge. Subsequently we read/watched examples of enormous resilience; for example, teenager Ines Alves who sat her GCSE’s in the immediate aftermath. In the aftermath, people clamoured to do whatever they could for survivors bringing food, clothes, toys and anything else that might help to restore some normality to individual life’s. Similarly, people came together for a variety of different celebrity and grassroots events such as Game4Grenfell, A Night of Comedy and West London Stand Tall designed to raise as much money as possible for survivors. All of these different narratives are to expected in the wake of a tragedy; the juxtaposition of tragedy, bravery and resilience help people to make sense of traumatic events.
Ultimately, what Grenfell showed us, was what we already knew, and had known for centuries. It threw a horrific spotlight on social injustice, inequality, poverty, not to mention a distinct lack of national interest In individual and collective human rights. Whilst Scrooge was “encouraged” to see the error of his ways, in the twenty-first century society appears to be increasingly resistant to such insight. While we are prepared to stand by and watch the growth in food banks, the increase in hunger, homelessness and poverty, the decline in children and adult physical and mental health with all that entails, we are far worse than Scrooge. After all, once confronted with reality, Scrooge did his best to make amends and to make things a little better. While the Grenfell Tower Inquiry might offer some insight in due course, the terms of reference are limited and previous experiences, such as Hillsborough demonstrate that such official investigations may obfuscate rather than address concerns. It would seem that rather than wait for official reports, with all their inherent problems, we, as a society we need to start thinking, and more, importantly addressing these fundamental problems and thus create a fairer, safer and more just future for everyone.
In the words of Scrooge:
“A merry Christmas to everybody! A happy New Year to all the world!” (Dickens, 1843/1915: 138)
 The final official figure of 71 includes a stillborn baby born just hours after his parents had escaped the fire.
Dickens, Charles, (1843/1915), A Christmas Carol, (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott Co.)