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Posts Tagged "entertaining strangers":

The Message of Christmas and ‘Observing Cultural Norms’

Abraham entertaining the Angels. Stone, northern Catalunya, late 12th century.

Abraham entertaining the Angels. Stone, northern Catalunya, late 12th century.

Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Hebrews 13.2

In England, there is an unacknowledged dichotomy at the heart of our celebration of the Nativity.

The example we are offered is of a woman who has just given birth and is obliged by circumstance to act as hostess to three shepherds and three wise men from the East, none of whom she has ever met before but, given that her son is the Son of God, feel not only entitled but obliged to visit and pay homage to her child. Joseph doesn’t get much of a look-in at this point.  Apart from the Christ child, there are no other children in sight. Nor is there any sign of either Joseph’s or Mary’s sisters, cousins or aunts.

From this biblical example, we have derived an annual celebration in which two adages are universal and constant: ‘it’s all about the children’ and ‘Christmas is about family’. Advent has become a time, not of pious fasting, but attending a series of more or less grim office Christmas lunches and/or village hall gatherings. The more charitable amongst us dig deep in our pockets to support the local food bank or Crisis at Christmas in the days and weeks leading up to December 25th. And then on the day, after attending a church service packed to the rafters with others doing the same, we retreat to our nuclear families – with a judicious addition of assorted sisters, cousins and aunts – to celebrate Christmas.

So how was it for you?

I am sure many of you have families in which there is no sibling rivalry and all the generations interact harmoniously at all times. But many others ruefully echo Ogden Nash’s quatrain Family Court:

One would be in less danger
From the wiles of a stranger
If one’s own kin and kith
Were more fun to be with.

Maybe there is a reason for this? I cannot think of any biblical exemplar of units of a father, a mother and 2.4 children being held up as the best group in which to live. The Body of Christ is multi-cellular, as was the unit that was Christ and his disciples.

In India and Pakistan in my childhood, my parents always invited other people who happened to be around to lunch on Christmas Day. In other countries in  which I have lived when I was single – the West Indies and New York – I was always invited to spend Christmas with families (whom I did not even know well). And when, as a result of marrying into the British Council,  I spent Christmas in Calcutta, Delhi, Dar es Salaam and Abu Dhabi, there was always a large group at our table of people who would otherwise be on their own. There was nothing out of the ordinary in doing this – my husband would use (to tease me) the  dreadful Councilspeak expression ‘observing cultural norms’ to describe what we were doing.

But, since returning to England, I can see that it is not part of our cultural norms here to keep open house at Christmas. Hence ‘it’s all about the children’ and ‘Christmas is about family’ (translation: me and mine alone, thank-you very much).

May I suggest that, if the joys of familial togetherness are not always all that they are cracked up to be, you consider diluting these joys by looking outwards beyond your nuclear family. Who knows, if you were to include one or two strangers next year, you might find some angelic quality in them – or even yourselves?

'Rev' Series 2 Episode 7 Christmas Lunch

‘Rev’ Series 2 Episode 7 Christmas Lunch


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