The perils of Paganism
A wry look at the modern celebration of Christmas
Guest article by Gabrielle Annunziato
Preface by Occult Mysteries
We are once again indebted to Gabrielle Annunziato for another satirical seasonal story crafted in the style of a fictitious newspaper article. We feel sure the themes she handles with such humour, warmth and insight will resonate with many readers who are appalled and amused in equal measure by the commercialisation of Christmas. Knowing the writer well we can say that she has nothing but the highest regard for the teachings of Christ, though the same cannot be said for what the various churches have done to them over the centuries. . .She has also written an afterword in which she explores the origins of some familiar Christmas customs.
Bryn Bradshaw of the London Daily News reports:
A controversial Christmas Nativity exhibition which opened last week at the Church of St Salome in Islington, London, has raised howls of protest from angry visitors who have condemned it as 'immoral' and 'pagan.' The cause of their displeasure is what the incumbent vicar describes as a "Secular Solstice—a lively contemporary interpretation of the Nativity." The exhibition changes daily, involving a huge cast of familiar, and many more unfamiliar, Biblical characters. These include Mary and Joseph portrayed as asylum seekers, shepherds dressed as investment bankers, angels in silvery space-suits brandishing flashing lightsabers, life-size turkeys, and Salome carrying the head of John the Baptist in a festive Marks & Spencer Christmas hamper.
On the day I visited the church an adult Jesus wearing a crown of holly leaves was embracing a scantily-clad Mary Magdalene underneath a sprig of mistletoe. The smiling couple were surrounded by an admiring group of grinning elves played by local children whose names have been redacted for reasons of National insecurity as many of their parents are supporters of Jeremy Corbyn. The entire tableau was tastefully embellished with plastic snowmen on illuminated skis, reconstructed-druids bearing gifts of chakra-balancing candles, Fair-Trade chocolate Yule logs and sprigs of edible Heston Blumenthal mistletoe. The 'Secular Solstice' exhibition has so outraged local residents that they've threatened to burn down the church if the ecclesiastical authorities do not close it.
I chased after one immaculately dressed young mum as she struggled through the crowd surrounding the church to reach her double-parked BMW X5 and asked her what she thought of the exhibition. "It's a slap in the face for thousands of years of Christian austerity and charity," she bristled angrily. Pausing only to tell a pregnant, homeless waif asking for the price of a cup of tea, to 'sod off and get a bloody job', she forced two bulging Harrods' food hampers into the back of her 4x4 already packed to the roof with Christmas presents and ranted on. "Jesus is actually kissing that slut Mary Magdalene! What sort of example does that set my kids? Next thing you know the Church will start ordaining practising lesbian single mothers as Bishops! 'Secular Solstice?'—It's a pagan bloody immorality play!"
'Immorality play,' is precisely what one visiting American Baptist minister has called the controversial exhibition, which has been roundly condemned by an informed source within Lambeth Palace as 'undermining the traditional Christmas values of abstinence, sobriety, frugality and quiet, religious observance.' But such complaints baste no turkeys with the outspoken organiser of the Nativity exhibition, the charismatic Vicar of St Salome's, the Rt. Rev. Lucrezia Buffone. 'Crazy Buffone', as the 37-year-old single mother has been dubbed on social media, is a non-practising Druidess and self-confessed admirer of Harry Potter, who says she staged 'Secular Solstice' to draw the attention of the public to the glaring contradictions between the teachings of Jesus and the hypocrisy and greed of practising Christians within the Anglican Church.
"I'm sick and tired of people banging on about the pagan immorality in my exhibition," she told me over a glass of organic, cold-pressed celery juice in the Vestry. "What about the immorality and hypocrisy of stuffing your face with battery turkey and buying mountains of useless crap to appease the greed of your screaming brats at Christmas? Not to mention vomiting on street corners, shagging your neighbour's husband or wife and beating the crap out of each other in arguments over who bought you brown socks this year? And then they have the cheek to stagger into my midnight mass reeking of Prosecco and cheap scent and accuse me of paganism!"
"Some of your critics have accused you of double-standards," I asked the provocative priest. "What do you say about the expensive gifts your 'shepherds' are presenting to Jesus? Surely that's simply reinforcing the greed and consumerism of Christmas?"
"It's satirical, you moron," snapped the Rev. Buffone. "I'm holding up a mirror to people. If they're too dim to see themselves in it that's hardly my fault."
"What about the scene in the exhibition when Mary Magdalene kisses Jesus?"
"He was a fit-looking bloke and she was a hooker. What do you think they did together—swapped chicken soup recipes?"
"Er—well—probably not," I replied.
"Look, Mary Magdalene is almost always mentioned first in the lists of Jesus' disciples. The Bible goes on and on about how much he loved women. Not a word about the blokes. He had droves of women running after him. They were always washing his feet. How many blokes do you think there were at his funeral?" added Lucrezia abruptly.
"Er. . .two? Three. . .one?" I suggested tentatively.
"None!" she exclaimed triumphantly. "Only Mary, Martha and her little sister came. Even his mum stayed away, probably ashamed of what the neighbours would say. All I'm doing is showing people the healing power of love. God knows—most Christians could use some. Even unbelievers know Mary Magdalene was a reformed hooker who loved Jesus better than any of his male disciples."
The 'Secular Solstice' exhibition which runs until 4th January, has so far attracted 27,000 visitors, many of whom have come several times, possibly on account of the free mince pies and mulled wine on offer. But not all visitors have reacted so positively to the Rev. Buffone's controversial Christmas message, as I discovered when I interviewed several of them outside the packed church.
"I hated it," said Mrs Johnstone-Brown (42) "I didn't see a single Santa or Reindeer in the entire exhibition. I mean, what do dead bodies hanging on trees have to do with Christmas? It's disgusting to show little kids stuff like that. Tristan and Clarissa were absolutely mortified when they were offered jelly babies with little chocolate nails stuck in them. I don't care whether they were gluten-free or not."
"There was a Santa in the church, but I think he was a visitor," I explained.
"Well, he should have been on the stage," shouted the woman as she dragged her children away from a dodgy-looking geezer selling Christmas iPhone cases.
"What's the point of Christmas without Santa?"
I put her question to a middle-aged man dressed in a Santa Claus outfit, who asked to remain anonymous, but who I later learned was the General Secretary of the Association of Professional Santas. "Dead right!" he spluttered, rolling his eyes as the spittle ran down his bristling, snowy beard. "There's no proof that this Jesus guy ever existed but everyone knows Santa is a genuine miracle-worker. How else does he manage to be in so many different places at once? If Christmas had anything to do with some dead guy nailed to a cross why don't Tesco's make their staff dress up as Jesus at Christmas?"
"You can't argue with that," I replied.
But not all the visitors I spoke to shared a reassuring belief in Santa Claus. Billy Bob Humbugger, an American evangelist behind the popular 'Keep Satan out of Christmas' campaign, had nothing but praise for the vicar's decision to keep the overweight dispenser of Christmas presents out of her controversial exhibition. "It's no coincidence that 'Santa' is an anagram of 'Satan," the bearded, 300lb Texan thundered righteously. "Don't be fooled by the jovial laugh and snowy beard. Santa Claus is the spawn of Beelzebub sent to earth to drag our kids to hell by encouraging a feeding-frenzy of consumerism!"
Humbugger's robust views were echoed even more forcibly by the churchwarden of St Salome's who told me: "Father Christmas is an abomination to all right-thinking Christians. If I hadn't threatened to resign, the Vicar would have had that harlot Mary Magdalene perched on the fat git's lap! Unless the Church puts a stop to this tide of paganism I'm out of here." Whether he was referring to his threatened resignation or the possibility that unless Santa was axed he and his fellow ecclesiastics would board a small dinghy at Plymouth and set sail for new, less morally bankrupt lands in which to proselytise the true faith, wasn't entirely clear.
The consequences of such an exodus are almost unthinkable. Leading theologians I consulted painted a nightmare vision of Britain deprived of the moral guidance of the Anglican Church. Homelessness, knife crime, Game shows, reality TV, casual sex, and atheistical archbishops are just some of the terrifying scourges which the moral guidance of the Church has so far spared us.
One smiling visitor disagreed. "Those who deny Santa are flying in the face of centuries of Christian tradition," explained Barclay Merchant, an articulate young man in an Armani suit who took time off from handing out credit card applications to passersby to talk to me. "Tradition dictates that Christmas is a time of giving. While children are normally content with a small token gift—a toy supercar, Nike Trainers or an iPhone X—many wives will not settle for anything less than a Cartier watch or a Givenchy frock. A husband who gives his wife a bottle of Tommy Girl, for example, or lavishes his children with nothing more than a chocolate Yule log, faces ridicule and social exclusion for his inability to properly provide for his family."
"But doesn't this just encourage people to splash out on Christmas presents they can't afford?" I asked the smooth-talking Santa lover.
"Not at all. The average family only owes around £20,000 on credit cards. That's absolutely nothing compared to their mortgage debt. With interest rates at their lowest level for over ten years there's no reason why a caring parent shouldn't apply for two or three extra credit cards to see them nicely through Christmas and still leave a bit over for Easter."
"Well, when you put it like that. . ."
"You can't disappoint the kiddies at Christmas, can you? Would you like to apply for a new card?"
"We're offering zero percent interest on credit card transfers over £10,000 and nothing to pay until Lent next year."
"Not today, thank you."
"What about a payday loan?"
"Well, if you're sure."
Another parent was beside himself with anger at the depiction of three Fishermen and a Tax collector engaged in a violent argument over who was to pay for the last supper. "It's blasphemous!" he exploded. "That heretical Vicar is blatantly glorifying greed and stinginess as Christian virtues at a time when the Church is bending over backwards to minister to the sick and needy."
"Not having much success, though, is it?" I suggested. "The number of homeless, destitute people has never been greater on the streets of London, some of them camped out in cardboard boxes within sight of Westminster Abbey."
"Bugger off!" snapped the man defensively as he hurried off to a nearby stall to take advantage of their 'two Christmas turkeys for the price of one, nothing to pay until Easter' offer.
I later put his complaint to the Rev. Buffone.
"Well, it's obvious, isn't it?" she replied laughingly. "The man is a typical religious bigot and canting hypocrite."
"How do you mean?" I asked.
"The history of the early Church is littered with rival Popes excommunicating one another at the drop of a communion wafer. Not to mention the Apostle Peter's hatred and jealousy of Paul and the constant bickering and backstabbing among the other disciples. My little exhibit is rather tame in comparison to the tricks the Church got up to in those days."
"What about nowadays?"
"You'll have to wait until next year's show."
"Have you decided on a theme?"
"Santa in a coffin being impaled with a sprig of holly through the heart by Donald Trump dressed as the Pope."
"Does it have a title?"
The embattled ecclesiastic giggled. "Slay time for Santa."
"How very appropriate."
NOTE: If you have enjoyed this story you may also like the two other stories the author has written for us: A modern Nativity—a tonic for the excesses of Christmas, and A modern Easter—a humorous retelling of the Bible story of the Last Supper.
© Copyright Gabrielle Annunziato & occult-mysteries.org. All rights reserved.
Published 3 December 2017.