“Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat
Please put a penny in the old man’s hat
If you haven’t got a penny, a ha’penny* will do
And if you haven’t got a ha’penny, well, God bless you.”
I can remember chanting this old English nursery rhyme as a kid in NZ around this time of the year. I didn’t think of it then as the reminder that it is, about Christmas being a time of charity and goodwill to all. The words today hold a certain nostalgia for summer days spent growing up in Christchurch but they also invite a deeper reflection on our relationship to wealth and its unequal distribution. God is introduced to the equation as a last line resort and the temptation is to write Him off as a bad debt or a panacea for the penniless. In our 21st century world of massive, largely unpunished, largely criminal behavior in the financial sectors of our national economies, our governments look like old men with their hats out begging for ha’pennies. It certainly doesn’t look as though the goose is going to get any fatter and if I were a real cynic I would say that our goose is already cooked!
So in such dire circumstances, how do we remember what Christmas is actually all about? How do we put our greed and desperate need for security to one side long enough for us to feel blessed by the spirit of Christmas? How will we go about remembering that we are all equal in our relationship to that which we most often refer to as God? And while we are remembering this relationship to our greater Self, will we also remember how dear we are each to the other? Christmas offers us this opportunity. Each religion has its remembering rituals and even those who devoutly refute all such connection to God at any time of the year, enjoy the excuse to unite with friends and family at Christmas. God takes as many forms are there are people but I particularly like the manifestation in the form of the babe in a manger. My enjoyment of this manifestation is informed by my cultural origin in a Christian country in the southern hemisphere. It doesn’t particularly bother me that the holy family is dressed in clothes from Provence in France and kids in New Zealand in Christmas tableaux wear shorts underneath their Virgin Mary and Joseph the carpenter outfits. I also love the Hindu manifestation of God as Krishna in the form of the babe, Gopala. Only unfamiliarity and ignorance prevents me from appreciating the equivalent of the babe in Islam or Judaism. Christmas is a coming together, a time of giving and receiving, a time of renewal, a time to give thanks, a time of oneness and remembering.
I remember the deep distress I experienced on one Christmas eve just when I was on the brink of disowning Father Christmas thanks to the wisdom of my older cousins. My mother was driving back home across town when we overtook an old black Model T Ford. Santa Claus waved out to me from behind the wheel. The back seat of his car was chock-a-block with brightly wrapped Christmas parcels. I was impressive in my anxiety and the urgency with which I begged my mother ignore the speed limit. I was clearly not prepared to take a risk on him skipping my chimney just because my silly cousins had tried to convince me he wasn’t for real. My parents belonged to the ha’penny income bracket and the only time I wished they had been a part of the penny brigade was the Christmas they bought me a second hand bicycle and the boy next door got a shining new one. I do remember the excitement of hooking an empty pillow case over the foot of the bed and placing a glass of milk and piece of Christmas cake on the bedside table before going to sleep on the 24th. I remember the edgy thrill to my waking on the 25th. Had he remembered me? Had I been good “enough”? Had my wishes come true? Christmas was very much about presents, puddings, people, song and sunshine. I always loved the summer holidays and Christmas was a part of that.
I understand that this weekend retailers expect to make as much as 50% of their annual turnover and in our intention to show love and care I am sure we will help them do it. The clamor to spend our pennies purchasing dreams and satisfying wish lists appears to contradict the spending power that we are told we have lost. 10 year olds are not interested in whether their parents are in the ha’penny or whole penny income bracket and would probably rather receive MP3s than God’s blessings for Christmas. We have put up the garlands and “decked the halls with boughs of holly” and Christmas is upon us.
But are we ready? Have we lit the candle? Have we steadied our mind? Are we ready to receive? Will we know the Lord when he is born into our heart? How will we teach our kids to recognize God’s blessing without them confusing Him with Father Christmas?
Christmas Greetings to All
What’s one of your best memories of Christmas as a child?
*ha’penny = a coin of the lowest value in NZ currency, still in use in NZ when I was a child. NZ currency was inherited from its British colonizers and went out of use in 1967 when NZ switched to dollars and cents and a decimal system of counting.