Neil Oliver: Government doubt over Christmas is wrecking the hope of a population on its knees

Neil Oliver
Neil Oliver

No one has the right even to imagine they might threaten Christmas - underneath it all, Christmas is ours

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It’s only October, but it might already be high time we talked about Christmas. Last week I read headlines in newspapers predicting a “nightmare” Christmas – no toys, no turkey, no beer, you know the kind of thing.

Business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng, God love him, was quoted saying shortages of this and that might suck the life out of Christmas right enough. When pressed he would only say he was making no promises. That’s big of him, I thought. The MP for Spelthorne declining to say whether or not Christmas would happen. Fancy that.

I was amazed by how much of the trouble is about CO2. We simultaneously have too much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere – making us too hot – and not enough to harvest the turkeys and pigs and put the bubbles in beer. Who knew? Talk of a shortage of pigs in blankets is very much to the fore. The devil is in the details, as they say.

But come on … are we really going to have the cancellation of Christmas dangled over our heads, like a sword of Damocles, for the second year in a row?

This is not about pigs in blankets, or toys from China, or Brexit, or the fact we are apparently no longer capable of training enough of our own people to drive heavy goods vehicles. You might have been forgiven for thinking a government standing watch over a move to a world in which we all stay at home in our pyjamas, anxiously awaiting deliveries of everything under the sun directly to our door, might have looked ahead and predicted the importance of every sort of delivery driver. Or thought to deal with the 54,000 HGV licences waiting to be processed by DVLA. But no. As usual.

Our government’s policy in all things – apart from topping up their salaries and pensions – is wait until we don’t have enough of whatever it is and then blame someone else, probably us, for why it’s not there. Pitiful.

But, all sarcasm, aside, be in no doubt what this shadow on Christmas really is: this is about the deliberate theft of hope from a population on its knees. To me it seems about keeping people jittery and distracted. You’d be forgiven for thinking there’s something else they don’t want us to look at.

For uncounted thousands of years the peoples of northern Europe, the inhabitants of this British archipelago among them, have watched the darkening of days as Autumn turns to Winter. Day after day the sun seems more distant, rising lower in the sky. Days are short and nights are long. Food and warmth are harder to come by. Between four and five thousand years ago Neolithic farmers gathered in the vicinity of the monument we call Stonehenge.

We have no way of knowing what they called the place but we have some ideas about what it meant to them. Excavated remains of culled pigs suggest people were in the habit of gathering at Stonehenge in great numbers not in the summer, but in the depths of winter. It is tempting to imagine them coming together around fires raised against the cold and the dark.

The greatest of the stones draw a line between the place where the sun sets at the end of the shortest day in winter and where it rises on the longest day in summer. Those pigs, herds and herds of them, were slaughtered and consumed. Talk about pigs in blankets. They may have buried their dead then too – having brought with them the cremated remains of loved bodies so they might be interred near those stones.

All of it was thousands of years before the coming of Christianity, but it was about togetherness around light and warmth in the darkest times. Maybe it was about knowing the darkest night was behind them and telling stories about how the warmth of the sun was beginning its long journey back to them. Winter is a threat to life, but togetherness is part, perhaps the most important part, of our defiance in the face of it.

Historians are not agreed about the back story of the sun god the Romans called, for a time, Sol Invictus – which is the unconquered sun.

Some scholars make the date of 25 December an important one for those that worshipped that sun. It may have been a late Roman response to the rise and rise of Christianity and its followers’ worship of a risen son, the Son of God. The unconquered son made flesh and blood.

And for the last two thousand years, there has been Christianity, and the development over time of the festival of Christmas. More than anything else, Christmas is about the coming of hope and the ending of fear.

And after all this time – after thousands of years of fires giving warmth and light and the promise of togetherness and hope – what do our leaders do? What gifts do they offer?

They threaten us with an energy crisis so that we might not be warm enough in our homes. They threaten to hike the cost of that fuel, so that many might have to choose between eating and being warm. And to millions of people who have had to weather two years like no others in living memory – two years of fear – they encourage talk of a “nightmare” at Christmas time.

This much I know to be true: Christmas is not and never has been about toys from China, nor turkeys stunned by carbon dioxide, ready for slaughter, nor pigs in blankets, nor fizzy beer.

From a time before the reach of memory, the darkest days of Winter saw our ancestors come together to make light and warmth of their own – and also hope. They did it by themselves and for themselves. To any government, after all this time, that looks ahead into the darkness of winter and yet fails to promise light and hope of better days, I say Who Do You Think You Are, How Dare You? And What On Earth Are You Lot Even For?

No one has the right even to imagine they might threaten Christmas, cancel Christmas. Underneath it all, Christmas is ours, just as hope is ours.

The people of this country deserve better – much, much better. It is high time we remembered that everything that keeps us together – or at least the parts that truly matter – are up to us.