Thoughts on Christmas prompted by the Post Office. Opinion Piece Newham Recorder 9.12.20.
One harbinger of this special time of year is the unveiling of the Post Office Christmas stamps. This year they feature exquisite stained-glass windows from English Anglican churches. The stamps are a small but interesting example of the unfair sway enjoyed by the Church.
Religious symbolism on our stamps is relatively new and runs counter to the narrative that Christianity is steadily being drummed out of Christmas. Credit goes to MP Tony Benn. He implemented the idea of seasonal stamps when Postmaster General in 1966, breaking with the tradition of purely secular stamps dating back to the 1840 Penny Black.
Even before Covid CofE statistics showed average weekly UK Anglican church attendance had fallen to well below a million. This country is greatly enriched by its cultural diversity. So why doesn’t the Post Office issue more stamps celebrating key events for other faiths and beliefs? The United States Post Office, for example, has issued stamps celebrating the Muslim festival of Eid and the Jewish festival of Hanukkah. A stamp celebrating World Humanist Day on 21st June would be nice!
These observations may seem trivial at the end of such a catastrophic year, overshadowed by loss, grief and increasing hardship, not least in Newham. However, the importance in these circumstances that is being attached to Christmas, not just as a Christian festival but as what PM Johnson describes as a ‘family holiday’, is striking. It is a key time to which so many of us look forward, whatever our faith or lack of faith, an annual break from routine when we can gather together and celebrate love, fellowship and life. The tradition of marking this darkest and coldest season across the Northern hemisphere goes back millennia and pre-dates Christianity. Its communal importance is such that it has persuaded the Government to relax, at least briefly, the stringent Covid measures they say are necessary to keep us safe.
So let us all savour this occasion, with prudence, remember those less fortunate, and vow to do what we can to make our world kinder, fairer and safer next year.
Chair East London Humanists