Tuesday 23 December 1997
It is that time of year when everyone starts to worry that our lives are getting a little too commercial. People get particularly upset about this as they push trolleys piled high with industrial-sized tins of Danish butter cookies, a hectare of satsumas and a tub of chocolate body spread. They say they are going to cut back (next year) and that the whole thing is out of control (as they wave a pounds 200 receipt). And then, inevitably, they say this is not supposed to be what Christmas is all about.
It is at this point that I think of my Christmas story. It was a dark and stormy day and, even worse, it was Christmas Eve, which is always a dangerous time to be a reporter in the vicinity of a news desk. By lunchtime, I had agreed to impersonate the Virgin Mary (though this probably was illegal or at least a sin). The idea was to put a pillow up my jumper and go round local motels to see if there would be any room at the inn for a poor pregnant woman who was temporarily without credit cards and cash. "No room at the Holiday Inn!" cackled the news desk as I waddled (authenticity being key) out into a snowstorm to tell my sorry tale to receptionist after receptionist. It was a tear-jerker but they remained unmoved. Rules were rules, even at this time of year. And, by the way, have a Merry Christmas!
The fifth time I waddled out of a lobby (authenticity having become a habit) it occurred to me that the Virgin Mary would never have got away with it now. These days a room at any inn, and especially something as chic as a stables, would require at least a Switch card, special arrangements for the donkey and a catering plan for the Wise Men. Nor is it all that easy to strip Christmas of its commercialism - though dumping the chocolate body spread is a good start - and there is something wonderfully circular about this week's attempt to bring religion to the shopping masses in the form of the church service at Asda in Gravesend, Kent. "It was an ordinary carol service, really," said Rev Michael Fanstone. "Except, of course, there were people trundling past with trolleys."
Of course. And don't forget the Archbishop of Canterbury's message. "Dr Carey will record his Christmas message for Asda shoppers at the same time he records messages for national TV and radio and the Anglican church worldwide," said the press release. And he did. Just as Asda's chief executive was on hand to read Luke 2: 1-7. Undoubtedly many will think religion has no place in the supermarket but, then again, they probably think there is still room at the inn too.
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