Yasmin Alibhai-Brown: The ways we betray the spirit of the nativity story

The fat man with his sack is surely the Antichrist if one considers the life of the great Saviour
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The Independent Online

You know how it is at this time of the year. An unpleasant mini-crusade breaks out as the tabloids and shock jocks accuse PC non-Christians for ruining Christmas. Decorations, they rage, are too universally appealing; nativity plays are banned and public spaces have banished white bearded men in over-stretched, red tracksuits carrying consumer greed on their backs.

Claptrap and lies. Sorry, children big and old, but I have to end your precious illusion. Bethlehem had no twinkling lights nor fir trees when the baby was born. Nativity plays? There are a few schools which have opted out but most still do the story of Christmas, even if some mindless parents object.

Christ is revered in Islam as a true prophet. My children were only ever goats and sheep, except in the early years when they were at a Montessori run by a Muslim woman who gave them the good parts. And Coca-Cola Santa is all around us. Within a radius of 10 miles, I counted 12 of these jolly chaps enticing young kids on to their laps in stores so mummies and daddies will get to spend lots of dosh. The fat man with his sack the saint of gross materialism and instigator of greed is surely the Antichrist if one considers the life of the great Saviour.

It is Christians, not us "ethnic minorities", who have killed off his profound messages and the spirit of Christmas. This I witnessed personally but three weeks ago. I always buy our charity Christmas cards from the Ealing Broadway Anglican Church in the middle of our shopping area. In a dimly lit corner volunteers sell the cards while people come to pray. Silence and goodness wrap around you.

As I walked through the churchyard, I came upon a young man in a sleeping bag. He was shaking violently. I asked him if he needed help, but he looked blank. Behind me were some of the worshippers, four in all. They walked right past without a glance in his direction.

Is this their Christianity? Is this how they should be behaving at Christmas time? Many Muslims pray a lot and indulge during Eid, yet they too ignore the fundamental tenets of Islam mercy, charity, mutuality.

It isn't too late. There is still a week left when they can stop shopping and spend the time attending with human tenderness to the forgotten people, the lost and unloved, the brutalised and also the sinners. I know more money is given to charity at Christmas than, say, during Diwali, Eid or the Chinese New Year. That is to be applauded. But the sacrifice is small and easy for an affluent Christian country. Jesus Christ did not shirk but sought pain. As celebrations take off, all of us should be forcing ourselves to remember those for whom there is no season of joy.

Here is my list of the forgotten ones. Two weeks ago, an Algerian inmate at Guantanamo Bay, held for five years without charge, cut his throat with a fingernail he had grown and sharpened. He nearly bled to death. Think of him and the others in their living graves. We leave Basra, and soon Iraq, as the women of that nation, once equal to men, are imprisoned and violated in an Islamicist culture, our gift to that poor nation.

Back home, this year some of the richest local authorities have decided to ban the provision of hot soup to homeless people just what the Churches ordered, do they think?

This season of good cheer even more families will break up, leaving one parent to pick up the pieces. Somehow Christmas is chosen as a particularly good time for philandering spouses to depart. Imagine the crashing emotions. Then our prisoners more men and women locked up than ever before, in hideously crowded prisons, infecting each other with the anti-social virus, no longer considered capable of rehabilitation.

Even in the punitive Victorian period, there were more decent voices calling out for redemption than we have today. The worst anti-Christmas attitudes are surely those that negate the nativity story itself our treatment of refugees and asylum-seekers. Strangers come and the inn has no place, nor the hospitals, schools and streets and the stables are open only to beasts.

A minority of genuine Christian Britons do remember Christ and try to follow in his step. They help the wretched, condemn what is wrong and pray for righteousness. I salute them. One even wrote to me and said he would be thinking of Conrad Black, our own Thomas Hardy character, fallen from great heights into the pit of humiliation. These thoughtful, conscientious folk truly keep the light of Christmas while their fallen brethren are having unseemly tantrums over Santa Claus.