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Yesterday I received an email from John Lewis inviting me to “be the perfect host this Christmas”. This would apparently be facilitated by the purchase of “cookware” and “serveware" which would enable me to “cook with ease from morning to night.”
When my guests had eaten themselves torpid, I could ensure their rest was peaceful by providing “sumptuous throws and cosy cushions.” And of course, the Partnership could also provide me with “the perfect Christmas Day outfit to wow your guests.”
Amid all this non-stop cooking, sumptuousness and wowing, it might be easy to lose sight of the real grace of hospitality which seems to me to be the true meaning of this over-hyped season. It is probably a little unkind to poke fun at John Lewis for there are undoubtedly far less ethically inclined vendors of seasonal indulgence.
But as a summary of so much which is rebarbative, blinkered and unjust about the popular concept of Christmas into which we can find ourselves suckered by advertising and retailing concerns, it serves well enough. Inviting us to feel that we will not do well by our families, friends and acquaintances unless everything is tasty and tasteful, is a trap which takes no account of real needs nor of the essential simplicity of true hospitality.
In equating the good Christmas with acquiring new and expensive instruments of glossy entertaining, it sprinkles a little failure dust on those who do not have much – or indeed any – disposable income. It reduces us to economic units of 'success' or 'failure' and plants the notion that “the true word of welcome, spoken at the door” must be backed up with lavish spending.
I adhere to what is perhaps a slightly old-fashioned strain of Quakerism which still holds to the 'Testimony against times and seasons'. Believing that we can reflect at any time on what the Divine has done and yet does in an eternal present, I find Christmas as widely presented today worse than meaningless. Worse, because in a time when government seeks to divide us and to provoke us to contempt of the vulnerable, it takes the heart and mind away from authentic generosity and insinuates a consumer oriented simulacrum in the place where the Word should take its ease and drop its benison.
The lonely, poorly, awkward, shy and plain cussed – these are the guests who will bless us and they are legion. If they can be received with loving warmth and good humour, beans on toast and your old jeans will do just fine.
© Jill Segger is an Associate Director of Ekklesia with particular involvement in editorial issues. She is a freelance writer who contributes to the Church Times, Catholic Herald, Tribune, Reform and The Friend, among other publications. Jill is an active Quaker. See: http://www.journalistdirectory.com/journalist/TQig/Jill-Segger You can follow Jill on Twitter at: http://www.twitter.com/quakerpenTweet