December 24, 2009

Deck the Halls with Boughs of Folly

Posted in Lifestyle tagged , , , , , , , , , at 9:20 pm by potofcallaloo

Rt Rev Bishop Nick Baines

So the Bishop of Croydon wrote a little blue book called Why Wish You a Merry Christmas? (What matters and what doesn’t in this festive season).

It’s gotten him embroiled in deep yuletide controversy over his criticisms of Christmas Carols. Newspapers all over Britain and around the world, including the U-S wrote about how the Rt Rev Nick Baines supposedly condemned Christmas Carols.

Some reports suggested he said they should be banned. One Telegraph report was headlined: “The Spirit of Christmas is Lost on Bishop Nick.” The Croydon Guardian said the Bishop had been labeled a “killjoy after attacking nativity plays.” I’ve started reading the book and I’m sad to say that many of these media reports sensationalised the words of Bishop Baines. Many of his statements were in fact taken out of context, which for me is a big shock and disappointment.

In one of the chapters he states that Christmas is not “Christmas without the ritual singing of certain carols.” That’s fine so far. He goes on to say that “most Carols are ok.” Nothing unusual there. Later on is where it seems he offended some people the most.

The Bishop begins deconstructing some carols to make sense of them. He tackles “Away in a Manger” and points to a particular line that goes, “The little Lord Jesus no crying He makes.” He says that it’s quite normal for babies to cry so there’s something strange about that line. Fair comment. If like me you grew up in an extended family, replete with little children, then you too would think it inane to muse on a tearless child. Later on he says “If we sing nonsense is it any surprise that children grow into adults and throw out the tearless baby Jesus with other fantasy figures?” Sure, maybe hanging in mid air by itself the sentence might offend some die hard carollers. But if one reads on, one is likely to find it far less offensive. The problem is many people didn’t get to read on because some media entities left out key bits of story.

Forever Baby Jesus?

I trekked to South London to speak with Bishop Baines myself. What he said to me is nothing different from what’s printed in his book. He explained that the book was meant to be a fun, light read on what matters during the holidays. He said the point was to get people thinking more deeply about what they sing and the reason behind the holiday.

Then he told me a story of how he was invited to a school to tell the Christmas story to children, who all thought that the main characters in the nativity were “Santa Clause, the Elves and Cinderella.” How tragic is that. I’m certain any other religious leader would be concerned if little children were confusing their figurehead with fantasy figures.

Bishop Baines says adults are to blame for children’s’ confusion. After all, sometimes people grow up and maintain ideas of Jesus Christ as merely some perfect baby. The inherent problem with that is of course that Jesus did grow up – and made the ultimate sacrifice for mankind, for those of us who believe.

I later spoke with the Chaplain at the University of Westminster – Father David Cherry who shared similar concerns. Fr Cherry said, “I think his theological point is that Jesus is as human and fully human as we are. It’s an important truth.”

Fr Cherry also says it’s not entirely bad that some children see the nativity as a fairytale. “In the same way that fairytales make an important moral truth accessible to young people I think Christmas carols can do the same but of course there are things we learn as children – the pictures and the nativity plays and as we grow u we need to grow deeper and explore the meaning. If it stays just a fairytale, just sentimental and cute then it doesn’t have much to offer.” This is practically the same thought Bishop Baines conveys in his book when he writes, “Adults face a complicated world as adults, but their understanding of Christian faith doesn’t grow up with them into adulthood.”


Having said that, it’s a shame that in a season of Christmas cheer (supposedly) some of the offended people deemed it fit to send the Bishop abusive hate mail. The contents of some of these are just abhorrent to me and I find it ironic that people who swear by the importance of carols should do such. Misplaced values I would think. And shame on those newspapers for their partial, sensational journalism.

Sure I too delight in singing carols that add to the joyful Christmas ambience. But it makes me shudder to think that writing a thought-provoking, funny read would cause such distress for a Bishop at the heart of the ‘festive’season. Pity…



  1. Gaysh said,

    Interesting issue.

    I am guilty of failing to think about the words in the Christmas carols that i sing. Maybe their catchy tune or the fact that their easy regurgitation after years of singing them is the blame for this. In either case, we do need to remind ourselves and children of the truth that Christmas represents and ensure that the songs that we sing and stories that we tell aligns with that truth.

    That could be the problem. Parents rely on carols and christmas cartoons to relay the message of Christmas. It’s not surprising, therefore, that kids confuse Jesus with Santa with Cinderella and other mythical figures– parents fail to make the distinction.

    Jesus’ perfection could also lend to the tendency of thinking of Him as a myth. He Was the perfect human. He did not sin. As human beings who are sinful, it can be difficult to wrap our minds around someone who is not. How do you categorize a sinless person? “God?” Many, unfortunately, would say “myth”.

  2. […] The busiest day of the year was January 4th with 40 views. The most popular post that day was Deck the Halls with Boughs of Folly. […]

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