My recent posts have concerned putting Christ back into Christmas.

Yet, even during late Georgian and Victorian times, the British considered Christmas more of a time for revelry than our Lord.

The first Christmas cards, which artist John Calcott Horsley created for Sir Henry Cole in the 1840s, show the priorities of the day. His card (see the illustration at the beginning of this article from Greetings Today) has a huge, jolly Christmas pudding in the middle surrounded by six illustrations (and another of a cake). Two of the six illustrations show men manhandling women. I cannot make out what the others depict, except for one featuring three musicians.

This is another one of Horsley’s cards:

First Christmas card

Greetings Today says it was criticised for promoting drunkenness, particularly with the little girl in the middle drinking wine which her mother has given her.

These cards were advertised at the time as follows:

A Christmas Congratulation Card: or picture emblematical of Old English Festivity to Perpetuate kind recollections between Dear Friends.

It should be noted that religious Christmas cards did not appear until some years later.

The charitable scenes flanking the left and right hand sides of the card are in line with John the Baptist’s exhortations in Luke 3:11: give food and clothing to the needy.

My British readers will also be interested to see ‘Merry Christmas’ instead of ‘Happy Christmas’. I recently went to a charity card sale. A volunteer saleslady said to an elderly lady customer, ‘But it’s a beautiful design. Are you sure you don’t want to buy it?’ The customer replied emphatically, ‘It’s not for our generation. The message says “Merry Christmas”. That won’t do. It’s “Happy Christmas”. Sorry.’

The Evangelical Alliance has results from a series of British surveys on Christmas from 2010 through 2014. It’s a lengthy, fascinating article, well worth reading — even if one isn’t British. What follows is a sampler.

The meaning of Christmas

If the original seasonal cards reflected mainstream British thought in the 19th century, things have hardly progressed since then:

– 83% agreed that Christmas is a about spending time with family and friends.

– 41% agreed that Christmas is a about celebrating that God loves humanity. 24% disagreed with this.

– 51% agreed with the statement “The birth of Jesus is irrelevant to my Christmas” whilst 46% disagreed with the statement.

– 36% said they would be attending a Christmas service. 62% said they would not be going to a service, 2% were unsure.

Furthermore:

A survey commissioned by The Children’s Society in 2010 found that only 10% of adults think that its religious meaning is the most important thing about Christmas. Only 4% of 25-34 year olds thought the religious aspect was important whilst 20% of those over 60’s years feel that it is the key aspect of Christmas. 67% of all adults said spending time with family was the most important thing about Christmas.

Expectations from church services

A number of secular Britons go to a choral or Christmas service. The ones with whom I have spoken say these church attendances evoke childhood memories or they go for the aesthetics (e.g. music, architecture).

Occasional churchgoers who occasionally attend Worcester and Lichfield Cathedral at Christmas say:

– 94% said their motivation was the music.

– 75% said they wanted to be reminded of the Christmas story.

– 55% said they wanted to worship God.

This is what they expect of the service and what they believe:

– 78% said they prefer the service to be candlelit.

– 76% said they prefer traditional rather than modern hymns.

– 94% said they expected the service to be uplifting.

– 58% believed in the birth took place in a stable.

– 57% believe in the role of the shepherds.

– 55% in the wise men.

– 42% in the virgin birth.

Worldly priorities reign

Very few Christmas cards recall the Nativity scene or the Magi.

In 2011, of single cards for purchase, Morrison’s supermarket carried the highest percentage … at 1.7%.

Regarding multipacks of cards, Tesco and Sainsbury’s offered the highest proportion at 20% and 23% respectively.

Concerning presents, 30% of Britons say they will be unable to afford as nice a Christmas in 2014 compared with 2013. Just over one quarter (26%) say they spend more than they can afford.

When we look at Christmas in a worldly way, we lose sight of God, Jesus Christ and the commandment to love our neighbour as ourselves. Therefore, it is not surprising to find that an unusual amount of violence and arguments takes place.

Divorces begin to spike soon after Twelfth Night on January 6:

The enforced intimacy of Christmas, coupled with the start of a new year is thought to be the main trigger.

On the other hand, it’s not all bad news on the marital front:

Church of England released figures in January 2012 that show their dedicated weddings website, set up to encourage couples to marry in church have been at their highest compared to receives the highest number of monthly enquiries in January.

Drunkenness, drug abuse, domestic violence, arguments, family feuds and more will be rife in another ten days’ time. As a result some people, especially children and adolescents, have never experienced a joyous Christmas.

In closing, let us remember the unchurched and the unbelievers in our Christmas prayers this year. May they come to appreciate the fulsomeness of God’s grace, supremely manifest in His only begotten Son.

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