The Secularisation of Christmas Entertainment
The central theme of this post may well be better suited to a scholarly essay by a noted academic. I'm afraid all you'll get from me are just a few personal observations. But I wanted to raise this subject because I am at an age now where I am very conscious of the changes that have happened in UK society over the course of my life. I'm not advocating one side of the debate over another, just merely collating my thoughts on a broad cultural shift. Christmas has become increasingly secular over recent decades and because I write about popular entertainment that is the medium I viewed this process through.
As a child of the seventies, I grew up as a cultural Christian. School began each day with a formal assembly in which hymns were sung, Bible passages were often read and a moral lesson was taught by the headmaster/mistress. Shops closed on Sunday, the public broadly attended services and the establishment still showed deference to the Anglican Church and other denominations. Irrespective of my personal beliefs, I was raised in a society that was steeped in Christian tradition (and still is). Remember that church and state have never been truly separate throughout UK history.
As I have previously written about Easter, Christian faith has slowly been driven out of the TV schedules over the years. Faith based content is far from common place on the major TV networks. TV shows and films seem to focus on the secular aspects of the season, such as family, the exchange of gifts and being together. Much of this alternative entertainment is based around the faux mythology of Santa Claus, Kris Kringle or even Dicken's tale of Ebenezer Scrooge's redemption. The Christian message with its fundamental tenets of service to others, giving and personal self-sacrifice do not sit well with a prevailing culture of self-indulgence and hedonism.
In recent years, a new factor has impacted upon the inclusion of Christianity in most forms of Christmas entertainment. Because the debate between religion and the secular has become increasingly polarised the media have naturally focused on extremes on both sides of the debate. Such elements are always good for a cheap binary headline. As a result Christianity is portrayed as the province of killjoys, bigots and the lunatic fringe, despite this not being an accurate or fair representation.
With regard to gaming, trying to dovetail a Christian message into such a medium is a difficult task. The lore and other worldly settings negate any obvious Christmas reference. The fact that games, especially the MMO genre have a global audience, developers are mindful of the diversity of the player base and the multiple faiths they represent. As a result we get Winter Festivals, Yuletide events and other broader concepts. These are more akin to our secular Christmas experiences in the real world. Yet they often come across as somewhat hollow undertakings and somehow fail to capture the sentiment of the season.
At this time of year in the UK, it is traditional for the head of state to broadcast a Christmas message. The Queen is formally the "Defender of the Faith and Supreme Governor of the Church of England" and also comes from a generation that genuinely believe in their Christian faith. When she speaks on matters of faith I believe she does so with utter personal conviction. I respect this in principle. Sadly the concept of a Christmas message has now been adopted by politicians as well as anyone with a media presence and an axe to grind. Seasonal messages from such quarters as these seldom have any credibility.
The secularisation of various facets of UK life is a complex subject and this post is far from a thorough exploration. I've simply collated a few thoughts on the matter. This beggars the question as to whether I have an overall point. If I do, then I believe it to be that the ongoing secularisation of Christmas, especially through the medium of entertainment, has not necessarily been to society's benefit. Although one can never recapture ones experiences of the past, I can honestly say that Christmas as it currently exists, is a somewhat hollow and arbitrary experience for me. It has usurped a festival that had positive moral connotations and replaced it with consumerism and “organized” fun. I don't know what the answers are to this conundrum or whether I am correct in my observations. All I know is that I feel that something has been lost and that makes me a little sad.