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Australian Nativity Scene

Oh God, it’s Christmas again. Nothing personal, God, but couldn’t you have arranged it some other time of the year, like summer? Yes, I know the Australians get it in summer, and everyone gives each other bikinis and shark-repellent spray, and the have roast turkey on the beach, but what’s a few bronzed Aussies with sand in their Christmas pud compared to the huddled, cold, miserable billions of Northern Europe. All of whom seem to congregate in Oxford Street? I think You should have thought of this first.

(Odd how we always give God a capital letter, as if He would be impressed by that sort of thing. It must come from some obscure Victorian book of etiquette. “When addressing correspondence to God, give capital letters to pronouns connected with Him and His close relations. Letters should commence Dear God. If one is conveying a personal rather than a business message, it can commence, My Lord, or even – if one is on familiar terms – Lord. It is normal to sign off as Thy Servant. Agnostics may, if they wish, start their correspondence To Whom it may concern, but it is still polite to put a capital W on Whom.”)

Thing is, God, that what with You being so busy trying to ward off World War III and get England into the World Cup Finals (well done, by the way, and if You could have done the same for Wales I would have been ever so grateful), You probably haven’t noticed that Christmas is getting slightly out of hand down here. Not exactly the simple little ceremony You planned, with just a few close oxen and asses coming round on the day itself, and the shepherds doing a bit of carol-singing when they could get hold of a sheep-sitter. It’s sort of, well, expanded since then.

I think the three wise men was a big mistake, personally. You probably thought at the time, well, nice to give the baby a little start in life with a few gifts: myrrh and frankincense to enjoy now, and some gold to put in the Roman Post Office savings account for later on. Not realising that it was going to escalate into a multi-million pound industry starting early November with the last posting date for gifts to people on Australian beaches.

Or maybe You genuinely thought that civilisation was going to take root in Australia first? And You really did plan a hot Christmas for us all, with beach cricket and a swim after lunch? Only Homo Sapiens took sudden leave of his senses, and insisted on going to live in the rainswept, damp, slushy north of Europe which You had originally planned as a sort of wild-life park for wolves and bears?

Either way, it would have been nice to have had some warning from the Bible…

* Mary and Joseph came unto Bethlehem, where the child was to be born.

*And Mary said unto Joseph, We must send cards to everyone in Nazareth for fear of offending our relations with whom we are not spending the Christmas season.

* Joseph replied, saying: And we shall send them gifts, each according to his deserts, down to the least pocket handkerchief and sachet of myrrh.

* I shall also deck the stable with holly and ivy, assuming there is any left in the market, and get in some wine should any visitors call unexpectedly and order a turkey, and make a pudding, and all those sundry tasks as it is written.

* Mary approved of all these things, saying to Joseph: It would be nice to have a crib too, you are a carpenter, it should not be too much bother.

* And Joseph approved of this, saying: If I have the time, if I have the time.

As I said, these are busy times, even for Someone as omnipotent and all-seeing as Yourself, so when you next get a chance to rethink Christmas You may welcome a little help over the priorities. With this in mind, I have humbly prepared a short list of the things You may feel like dealing with first:

1. Strings of silver tinsel draped over Japanese electronic goods in shop windows.

2. People singing carols through entryphones.

3. Special Christmas TV shows, especially those with famous people dressed up as Father Christmas.

4. The adoption of the stagecoach, robin and turkey as sacred religious symbols.

5. Tape recordings of carols in mainline stations.

6. Snow effects sprayed on shop windows.

7. Christmas crackers containing functionless plastic objects and the same motto as your neighbour’s cracker.

8. So-called humorous books rushed out in September as stocking-fillers.

9. The tune called “Jingle Bells”.

10. The fact that you cannot send a sample gift without having to pay through the nose for (a) fancy wrapping paper (b) fancy string (c) fancy label (d) fancy sticker saying Happy Xmas) (e) fancy stamp costing up to £5.

11. The habit of estate agents of putting a Christmas stable scene in their window, when you know the real message is: “Superior mews apartment, needs modernisation, built-in manger, only £500,000”

12. Plastic mistletoe.

13. Christmas quizzes in newspapers containing unanswerable questions.

I think that once we have cleared up those few problems, we should be well on the way to getting back to what Christmas is all about.

Unless of course I have got the whole thing wrong and You have designed it as a test of character through which we have to pass to emerge better but poorer, colder but wiser. If so, I take it all back.

Though I can’t help pointing out that in that case You’ve let the Australians off pretty lightly.

Thy humble servant, etc etc

Miles and Miles 1982

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