Christmas tales 2007: our favourite writers rant, reflect and reminisce

A Christmas visitor, by Matt Thorne

For weeks we've been exhorting you to spend, spend, spend, but now that the presents have (with any luck) been bought and the preparations are complete, it's time to ponder the deeper meaning of Christmas. We asked our favourite writers to rant, reflect or reminisce on a festive theme. As Ronald Hutton explains, the last thing you should feel at this time of year is guilty, so sit down with a mince pie and enjoy

I spent last Christmas at home with my wife, my son, my brother-in-law and my friend, Bob. We'd enjoyed Christmas lunch, listened to a selection of novelty Christmas CDs and were sitting down to watch a DVD of 'R Xmas, Abel (Driller Killer) Ferrara's 2001 film about a yuppie coke-dealing couple who have the misfortune to run into Ice-T on Christmas Day, when the doorbell rang.

I went downstairs and found a Hasidic Jewish man on my doorstep. We live in an area populated by a high number of Hasidim, and I have often found myself being invited into Jewish homes during the Sabbath to turn on their lights and ovens, as they are forbidden from doing anything that might count as physical labour during this period. But this was the first time anyone had come to my home.

He was standing shyly by the wall. He had very black hair, a pair of thick glasses and the mandatory long black jacket and hat. "I'm sorry to disturb you," he said, "but I have a somewhat strange request. It is one of your special holidays today, I believe?"

"Christmas."

"Yes," he said, "Christmas. I have always wanted to witness what goes on in your homes on this day."

"OK," I told him, "come in, I'll show you."

He seemed surprised. "Really?"

"Of course."

I took him upstairs. Bob and my brother-in-law sat up immediately when the man entered our lounge. They looked as shocked as if I'd brought Henry VIII into our house. I picked up the remote-control and turned off the television.

"You have a tree," the Hasidic Jewish man said.

"Yes. We decorate it, that's part of Christmas."

He nodded and touched his beard. "What else is part of Christmas?"

"Well, we eat turkey, we give each other presents..."

"And what are you celebrating?"

"Um... family, friendship..."

"The birth of Christ," said my wife.

"Ah, him," he said. "He was one of ours."

I picked up a tray of mince pies and offered one to him. He shook his head.

"Would you like a drink?"

"No, thank you."

"Well, perhaps you'd like to sit with us? We're all about to watch a film on television."

"No," he said, "that's enough. Thank you."

I showed him out. As he was about to leave he said to me, "So you are spending this festival with your wife, your son, and some friends?"

"Yes."

"That's unusual for your lot, isn't it?"

"My lot?"

"Christians."

I didn't know what to say. He thanked me and started walking down the street. I went back upstairs. Bob was wearing a cowboy hat that had come as an accessory with my son's Christmas present: a singing rocking horse. He looked at me and asked, "How much did you pay him to do that?"

"I knew you'd think that. But I didn't, I promise. You heard the doorbell."

"Why did you let him in?"

"I had to. What if it was some sort of test? Besides, he seemed nice enough."

"What kind of description was that about Christmas? 'We eat turkey, we give each other presents...'" he mocked.

"What would you have said?"

"I don't know, how about, 'We pull Christmas crackers, we make decorations, we sing carols, we drink mulled wine,'" he had a flash of inspiration, "you could've told him about Father Christmas."

"Was that Father Christmas?" my son asked.

"No," I said, "it wasn't Father Christmas."

The next day we had lunch at our neighbours' house. We live in a friendly street where there are lots of people with children and there were three or four small families sitting round the table. After we finished up the various leftovers from all our Christmas meals, one of our neighbours said, "The strangest thing happened yesterday, a Hasidic Jewish man came to our door and said he wanted to find out about Christmas."

"Us too," said another couple, and in a few moments we'd established that he'd gone to nearly every house in the street. He hadn't accepted food or drink at anyone's homes, and hadn't stayed more than five minutes at anyone's place, aside from some slightly older neighbours whose drunken friend had bullied him into a theological argument.

"He must have been young," said my neighbour, "and brave, to do something like that."

"I'm glad he did," I said, "it made our Christmas."

I never saw him again, and this year we're spending Christmas with my wife's parents. I don't know if he understood the meaning of Christmas from going to all the houses on our street, or even if I could explain the meaning of Christmas beyond turkey and presents. But I know that this will remain one of my more memorable Christmasses, even when I've long forgotten the Christmas that my family watched the Rambo trilogy in one go, or the time that my friends rescued me from a miserable day with my divorced parents to take me to watch a band at the only nightclub open on 25 December, or any of the other weird ways I've chosen to celebrate this holiday over the years, and for that I thank him.

Matt Thorne is currently working on a critical study of Prince for Faber

Arts and Entertainment

Film Leonardo DiCaprio hunts Tom Hardy

Arts and Entertainment
And now for something completely different: the ‘Sin City’ episode of ‘Casualty’
TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Giants Club: After wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, Uganda’s giants flourish once again

    Uganda's giants are flourishing once again

    After the wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, elephant populations are finally recovering
    The London: After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

    After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

    Archaeologists will recover a crucial item from the wreck of the London which could help shed more light on what happened in the vessel's final seconds
    Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

    Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

    The invention involves turbojets and ramjets - a type of jet engine - and a rocket motor
    10 best sun creams for kids

    10 best sun creams for kids

    Protect delicate and sensitive skin with products specially formulated for little ones
    Tate Sensorium: New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art

    Tate Sensorium

    New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art
    Ashes 2015: Nice guy Steven Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

    Nice guy Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

    He was man-of-the-match in the third Test following his recall to the England side
    Ashes 2015: Remember Ashton Agar? The No 11 that nearly toppled England

    Remember Ashton Agar?

    The No 11 that nearly toppled England
    Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

    US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

    Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

    'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
    The male menopause and intimations of mortality

    Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

    So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
    Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

    'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

    Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
    Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

    Bettany Hughes interview

    The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
    Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

    Art of the state

    Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
    Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

    Vegetarian food gets a makeover

    Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks