Linda Colling: True meaning of Christmas

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HOW long before the true meaning of Christmas is as extinct as the Dodo?

It’s a pertinent point with one-in-four children thinking Simon Cowell is the Messiah and Christmas celebrates his birthday.

Omniprescent in their lives, the X Factor supremo is seen as God. But then how many of these youngsters, whose lives are so dominated by celebrity culture, have been told the Christmas story?

It’s no surprise to me that 22 per cent of five to seven-year-olds surveyed, thought December 25 marked the birth of Cowell and 36 per cent did not have a clue whose birthday it was at all.

Instead of gold, frankincense and myrhh, a quarter of children said Jesus had been given chocolate, a TV and a Peppa Pig toy.

Whether or not you think the poll rubbish, the fact is the Christmas story has been lost in commercialism, overshadowed by the celebs who are at the top of the tree, not the angel.

Christmas itself is devalued by Xmas. Christ, the very heart at what it is all about is relegated, wiped out, forgotten in a shopping frenzy. You’re even hard pressed to find a Christmas card with a religious ring. And whether or not you are a believer, it is abysmally sad that children today are so clueless about Jesus.

In our secular world, for this is no longer a Christian country, the age-old Christmas story you once heard first in your home is skipped. It’s an irrelevancy and relegated to the realms of fairy stories. Any wonder that it’s all a mystery and not as in His birth?

And so, the saviour of the world in our celeb-obsessed world is Cowell who makes or breaks wannabees, truly their shining star.

More than a third reckoned X Factor’s Gary Barlow, 40, TOWIE’s Mark Wright, 24, and Prince Charles, 63, were the three wise men and three-in-10 assumed the wise men heard about the birth of Jesus through Facebook. That’s their world today and if they had never heard any different, why would they think otherwise?

That’s why only 28 per cent of children named Bethlehem as the birthplace of Jesus. One-in-four thought it was Brentwood, home to the TOWIE stars, while a quarter believed it was 10 Downing Street or Buckingham Palace.

In the poll of 1,000 youngsters carried out by Woolworths.co.uk, what they didn’t know about Santa wasn’t worth knowing, believing his Lapland home, a trendy London nightclub and one-in-10 reckoning Beckham, Tulisa, Pippa and President Barack Obama are the names of Father Christmas’s reindeers.

Many thought ‘wor Cheryl would be pulling his sleigh, along with Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo and rapper Tinie Tempah. Woeful.

When 35 per cent don’t even know who Rudolph is, what chance does Jesus stand?

The star that guided the wise men is out of their ken. The only stars they rate are the rich and famous. And it gets even more confusing when you have Victoria and David Beckham acting out the birth of Jesus with new baby Harper. But, this was all staged pretence by a spoof photographer to promote her new book, charting celebrity stories of 2011 recreated by lookalikes. What’s real anymore?

When I asked the RC Bishop of Hexham and Newcastle, Rt Rev Seamus Cunningham what he thought of the survey, he said: “I am really amazed.” But he is confident that children in catholic schools have a good grounding in the Christmas message, which is part and parcel of their syllabus.

Over at the Minster, the Rev Martin Anderson shared my misgivings that the survey smacked of contrived, questions with multiple-choice answers to provoke laughs.

What isn’t to be laughed off was the message given at the Echo carol concert this week by Alice Venning, lay chaplain at the Minster.

As Martin reiterated, the Christmas message, far from being past its sell-by date, is one we can identify with – Jesus born not in pomp and circumstance, but into poverty and God revealed in the fragility and vulnerability of the stable, that we might know the richness of His love and the hope His identifiying with human suffering brings into our lives.

What can we really do to make Christmas special? It’s not the gifts and the price we put on them, but all that’s priceless, love of those who mean the world to us and extending the hand of kindness to someone in need.

That could just make their Christmas a very happy one. A very merry Christmas to you all.

l Frankincense doomed, gold prices soaring and myrhh, the last of the three gifts handed out by Melchior Caspar and Balthasar, is also going sky high.

Dutch ecologist Dr Frans Bongers claims the production of the frankincense resin could halve in the next 15 years and blames the decline of the Boswelia tree, which produces the festive fragrance, on fire, cattle grazing and attacks by the long-horn beetle.

More precious than ever.