Leftovers for lunch- twisty turkey lattice

So, leftover turkey.

It’s a pain, isn’t it?  Cold and sliced for a couple of days, hot and stirfried or chopped up into pesto for pasta.  Curried, too, if you can stand the thought.  It get’s hugely tedious. I know the real answer is buy a smaller bird, but no one ever does, do they?

Anyway, thought we were going to be snowed in today, so this is the leftovers recipe I’ve just made.  And rather yummy it was too. As it was made with leftovers, the measurements are somewhat approximate.

Twisty Turkey Pie

Left over turkey, shredded
3 slices left over bacon, chopped
third of a box of passata
third of a tube of concentrated tomato puree
3 chopped carrots
3 lumps of frozen spinach
1 glass white wine
5 chesnut mushrooms, sliced
1 pack frozen puff pastry, defrosted
olive oil
salt, dried thyme, lemon juice

Firstly shred as much turkey as you can stand.  My food processor’s still in the box from moving house, so I actually grated mine.  Very odd feeling, doing that, but worked brilliantly. Turkey is very low fat, so add a slug of olive oil and start frying, gently.
Add the bacon, and the tomato puree.  Boil a kettle and cover the three spinach lumps in a measuring jug to defrost.
Add the wine and passata to the turkey and stir, remember you’re still sort of frying it. Then add the spinach and water.
Chop carrots and slice mushrooms, add to the mix. Season with the salt, thyme and lemon juice.

You’ll end up with a kind of pale orange mixture, studded with veg and flecks of spinach.

Butter a pie dish, or if like me you’ve not actually unpacked those yet, a springform cake tin.  Roll out the puff pastry on a floured board, and put it into the tin, lining all sides with the pastry.  It doesn’t matter if it’s a bit patchworky, as long as it’s sealed.  Load in the filling.
You will probably not have enough pastry to make a full pie top from the leftover pastry.  Cut the remaining pastry into long strips.
Twist these and attach them across the top of the pie, like a lattice.
Butter or milk around the edges to glue them to the edges of the pie pastry, and across the lattices to make them nice and shiny in the oven.

Bake for 30 minutes at 190c, then check every 10 after that to see if it’s done yet.  Mine took 50 minutes, but it will depend on the quantity of filling.

Best use for leftover turkey I’ve found yet…

(NB that’s not my pie – can’t get my photo to upload – so that one’s from http://tobykitchen.wordpress.com/page/2/ and may actually be filled with rhubarb… but it does nicely illustrate the twisty lattices)

Total honesty? Discretion and life lessons…

From Wikileaks…

Oh dear Wikileaks.  I hope you realise what you’ve done.

There’s a lot of comments on the internet about “this is what the internet should be about” or “this is what openness and transparency should mean” or “this should be acceptable in a democracy“.
I couldn’t disagree more.

I’m going to try to look at what on Twitter is tagged #cablegate from a slightly different perspective.
Here’s four bits of private thought or private discussion to think about:

#1 “Um, is your mum really going out wearing that top?  It’s not her colour, I mean, seriously.  It brings out the red in her nose and makes it look like she’s been drinking.  The fabric clings to her sides and the pattern shows off the rolls of spare tyre fat.  She looks like a bulgy, drunken -thing- squeezed into your t-shirt, except she bought it for herself. So embarrassing”.

#2 “She smells. Again.  She’s our best friend – it’s always been all three of us together. We’re going to have to stage an intervention.  You’re going to have to say something, I mean.  It’s for her own good really – if we notice, presumably everyone does.  It’s not like she doesn’t wear deodorant, but ergh, she needs a stronger one or something. Foul”.

#3 “He hit me.  It was just once, really hard, on the back and he grabbed my wrists so I couldn’t hit him back so they hurt too.  He got too angry and just turned into some kind of monster.  A one-off strike.  He’s never done it before.  He’s never hit our daughter. I don’t think he would. But I never thought he’d actually hit me.  Should I walk out?”

#4 “He’s boring.  But Milly says if you want something from him just smile.  He probably doesn’t get many girls anywhere near him, I mean would you even talk to him if you didn’t have to? Yuck, he’d probably want to date you or something.  Gross.  But he does ‘get’ maths and I don’t want another D”.

No one ever said that humans are nice.

And knowing what to say publicly and what to say privately or not to say at all is part of the process of growing up.

Things have changed a bit even in my lifetime.
Two generations before me it was all stiff upper lips and keeping mum – well, it was a time of world war.  Then things loosened up a bit with the babyboomer generation, the not-at-all-threatening-nowadays Beatles and Rolling Stones, letting it all hang out Woodstock-style and talking about sex became the norm.  The yuppies made it less necessary to be discreet about money.
And now, so much of the time, anything goes.

The issue becomes how much of your life to live in public – with Facebook, Twitter and blogging, what do you say and what do you keep to yourself?
This is accompanied by increasingly candid celebrities – the Kerry Katona/ Katie Price self as a commodity measuring self-worth in column inches. Katie Price is of course also a very canny business woman and extracts a high price for this exposure.

The risk with such instant and compulsive access to broadcasting that we say it without thinking.  That can be a big mistake – your job can depend on you not saying the wrong thing.  Just because you can say something publicly, doesn’t mean it should be said publicly.

Take my (let’s be absolutely clear about this) fictional examples above.  In those situations:
– would the speaker be better off if the content was said publicly?
– would the subject of the discussion, in the terms discussed?
– would the world be a better place for it being said out loud in full hearing of the subject?

I don’t think that there’s a single example above where either party or the wider world would’ve derived benefit from those thoughts or private discussions being put out in the public domain.  I’d be interested to know what you think.

Clearly thinking horrible thoughts about your friend’s mum’s dress sense and actually saying it to your friend in those terms would be stupid – at the end of the day, “c’mon, she’s my mum, dude“. Even if the critique is true.

With the boyfriend that hit out in anger, the call is much harder.
Let’s be absolutely clear, one adult hitting another or a child is utterly, utterly unacceptable and should never, ever happen.
As ever life is a bit more complicated than that.  The problem here is what’s at stake for the parties involved.  It has clearly happened – but is it a one-off, or a slippery slope? Should it ever be spoken about, apart from to each other?  Is there counselling needed as a couple or anger management? What about praying together? Would raising it in public cause more problems than it solves? Or does no never mean that this violence should signal the end of the relationship? Would walking out at this point be sensible, or a serious overreaction?

Sometimes you need to be able to have a candid conversation in order to be able to handle a situation well.  Take the smelly friend – to me, it is clearly in her interests in the long run to know, but definitely in her interests that her friends get together in the short term to work out how to do so so that no hurtful language is used. Even if it feels a bit like talking behind her back – which of course is what they are doing even if they don’t mean it badly.
It is ok to think uncomplimentary things about friends sometimes – I’m particularly bad at washing up, and remembering birthdays and to phone people. I’d expect others to say this about me.  But not necessarily to me, thanks guys, behind my back but privately is just fine.

But what about getting the maths help from the geek you’d never go near unless you needed his help?
Leave aside that quite often the maths geek turns out in the long run to be the better sort of husband and the good looking, popular boys usually start to believe their own publicity and are less good to be around- no teenage girl really believes that, even with Glee on TV.
The reality of life is that often you do things that you might not otherwise do to advantage yourself because its expedient to do so.  You might even talk about it with your mates. It doesn’t make it the morally right thing to do.  But that often doesn’t stop you. And you can usually find a way to justify it to yourself.

Everyone has a nasty part of their mind.
(Oh yes, even Christians).
And sometimes we just go with it.
(It’s not hypocritical to acknowledge that, the whole point about being Christian is recognising your sin, knowing you’re flawed and seeking to overcome it, not do it again and be forgiven).

So how does this link to the Wikileaks release?
According to the Guardian:

Clinton led a frantic damage limitation exercise this weekend as Washington prepared foreign governments for the revelations, contacting leaders in Germany, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf, France and Afghanistan.

The point about diplomacy is that, in order for positions to be informed ones, the type of thing that for an individual might be an inner monologue, or at a push a private conversation, needs to be discretely shared with others within an administration so that agreed internal positions can be found.
Then the right language can be found to achieve the right outcome.

For that reason, I am slightly amused by comments like “the next G20 is going to be soooo awkward“.   If so I guess that would be choice not necessity.  The point is that diplomacy is the art of moving from the raw approach to the smooth interface.  Seeing the furiously paddling legs of the swan may belie the graceful beast above the water but it is merely exposing the workings, not invalidating the whole bird.

Who gains from the Wikileaks cables release?
People who want to exploit divisions between friends, or those who wish to synthesise outrage in order to justify an action of their own.
Some will be genuinely offended, feel let down or angry.
Some will just be curious about the weird world of diplomatic communication.
Some in IT security will no doubt be expecting a call to beef up information protection.
But those that lose are the diplomatic and security personnel who have been compromised, the people who were discussed or quoted, the people who might now face personal danger as others “respond”, and the people who genuinely believe in more governmental openness and see this as a nail in its coffin because it so clearly shows that with great IT power appears to come great irresponsibility.
And if the middle east is destabilised, we all lose.

Are Wikileaks villains, misguided, or heroes of openness?  It’s up to you.
But for me, sometimes discretion is the better part of valour.

(image c/o http://www.essentialstyleformen.com/features/advice-discretion-is-key/)

Who knew about Christmas?

People have been wondering about Jesus and whether he was who he said he was (the Messiah), and did what he said he did (died for us, and rose again, to put us right with God), for more than two thousand years now – and millions have attempted to answer.

So how are we supposed to know?  Well, I’m leading at this weeks women’s home group, and we’re looking at the prophesies that Jesus fulfilled, starting with the ones relating to Christmas.

For me, faith-wise Christmas has never been as important to me as Easter, I mean, the rituals associated with an English Christmas are fabulous, but my faith does not hinge on the virgin birth and birth location of Bethlehem in the same way that it does on the crucifixion and resurrection.
And as a student of history and literature, I’m always sceptical about the accuracy of documents and the possibility of retrofitting to gloss over inconvenient details that don’t quite fit. Can we trust the source material?*
So looking at the Messiah prophesies for Christmas is a genuine journey of discovery, and not something I intend to just blindly accept.
However, after quite a lot of research I owe a great deal of thanks to “Answers to Tough Questions Skeptics Ask About the Christian Faith” by Josh McDowell and Don Stewart (Tyndale House Publishers, 1980) as well as the various largely anonymous internet evangelists of all faiths and none.

Prophecy means a revelation from God, or “prediction of the future, made under divine inspiration”.  There are about 300 prophesies in the Old Testament, written between 1450 BC and 430 BC,  relating to an anointed one (the Hebrew word is Messiah).   According to Clarifying Christianity, readers of the texts in the ancient world knew that the Messiah:

would arrive in their future. The Messiah would “deliver” or “save” all the Jewish people, bringing them to paradise or heaven. These prophecies also stated that the Messiah would save all the other people in the world “through the Jews.” For this reason, people who are not Jewish need to learn about the Messiah, too”.

It’s worth noting that not everyone believes that the prohpesies were fulfilled by Jesus.  In fact, the religious leaders at the time said “woe to us, for the sceptre has been removed and the Messiah has not come!” (from the Talmud of the Babylon, Sanhedrin).

But the specific predictions that seem to relate to Jesus include the timing of his birth (before the Jewish people lost their sovereign power to the Romans when Archelaus took the throne of Israel; that he would be born in Bethlehem (a little insignificant place according to Micah 5:2) and that he would be born  to a virgin.  Eve was told that her descendant’s heel would be bitten by the serpent but that the serpent’s head would be crushed (Genesis 3:15). A child would be born “to us”: a wonderful counsellor, mighty God, eternal father, prince of peace (Isaiah 7: 10-16) – the now familiar words which must surely have seemed blasphemous. He would be born in Bethlehem to be a ruler in Israel, and to be the Ancient of Days (Micah 5:2) – a figure from the book of Daniel (Daniel 7:9, 13).  His coming would cause a massacre of Bethlehem’s children (Jeremiah 31:15).  He would travel to Egypt (Hosea 11:1), would live in Galilee (Isaiah 9:1) and Nazareth (Isaiah 11:1), he would be from the family of Israel’s great King David (2 Samuel 7:12-16, Psalms 89:3-4, Isaiah 9: 6-7); he would be announced by a herald (Isaiah 40:3, Malachi 3:1, 4:5), that his mission would include the gentiles (Isaiah 42: 1-4) and that his ministry would be one of healing (Isaiah 53:4).

I’m going to look particularly at Isaiah 7:14-16, Isaiah 9:1-8, Isaiah 40: 1-10 and Micah 5:2.

1) Born of a virgin (Isaiah 7: 13-16)

Isaiah was a prophet who lived between about 742BC and 722BC, in the kingdom of Judah, the southern part of Israel.  This was his first prophecy. The kingdom was under threat of invasion by the Assyrians (Rezin, King of Aram) and northern Israel had already signed an alliance to protect itself (King Pekah choosing to attack Judah in preference to being defeated by Assyria).  Isaiah’s message was that King Ahaz should avoid all entanglements with foreign powers, but the King did not want to hear it, nor would he agree to put God to the test.  He did not want to see God’s advice on what to do because he was afraid of the answer he might hear.  Despite all this, Isaiah delivered a message of comfort, reassurance, and of hope to come – any immediate ruination would eventually be undone, and nothing would be left of their attackers in just 65 years.

At first glance, there seems to be two key points of this passage: the virgin being with child, and that her son will be called “Immanuel”.
God was giving the sign King Ahaz needed, but not just for him but for all his descendants too.  And while some people thought that Isaiah’s own second son who was born soon afterwards would be the child to fulfil the prophecy, he was not virgin-born, nor did Isaiah name him Immanuel.
But that’s not Jesus’s name either (and actually Jesus appears to be a corruption of the name Yeshua!)   Immanuel means God with us – his nature and role rather than his specific name.  He is described as having to learn to take the good and refuse the evil – something Jesus clearly does in the desert…

But a virgin birth?  Protestant Christians and Muslims believe that this means a birth without male involvement – Roman Catholics and some Orthodox Christians believe this means that Mary remained a virgin even after giving birth. The virgin birth appears in both the gospels of Matthew and Luke.  There are a number of interesting questions – did Isaiah’s prophesy mean “young woman” or “woman who has never had sex” (NB both of these terms are used to describe Rebecca in the Old Testament)?  Was the birth of Jesus as written down based on the attestation of Mary and Joseph, or added by the authors of the gospels who were already aware of the Messiah prophesies?  Is it an allegory, comparable to that of God and Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden?  Is it simply following the pattern in the Old Testament of having miraculous births for prophets – just like the Pharaohs and Gods of the ancient world?  Were there anti-Jesus stories questioning his parentage at around the time that Matthew and Luke were written that they were addressing?  Paul’s writings can be interpreted as supporting either case.

According to “Answers to Tough Questions Skeptics Ask About the Christian Faith“:

The Bible teaches that the Word who became flesh was with God from the beginning (John 1:1). The fact of the pre-existence of Christ is testified many times in the New Testament (John 8:58, Philipians 2:5–11, Colossians 1:15, 16).
When Jesus came into the world, he was not a newly created individual such as we are, but was the eternal Son of God. To be born into this world of the virgin Mary required divine intervention, and this is exactly what the Gospels record.
Another reason why Jesus needed to be virgin-born was because of His sinless nature. A basic New Testament teaching is that from the day He was born until the day He died, Jesus was without sin. To be a perfect sacrifice, He must Himself be perfect — without sin. Since our race is contaminated with sin, a miraculous entrance into the world would be required, hence the virgin birth.Moreover, if Jesus had been sired by Joseph, He would not have been able to claim legal rights to the throne of David. According to the prophecy of Jeremiah 22:28–30, there could be no king in Israel who was a descendant of King Jeconiah, and Matthew 1:12 relates that Joseph was from the line of Jeconiah. If Jesus had been fathered by Joseph, He could not rightly inherit the throne of David, since he was a relative of the cursed line.

2) Unto us a child is born (Isaiah 9:1-8)
So familiar from the Eleven Lessons and Carols “the people that walk in darkness have seen a great light”.
The prohetic language muddles the past, present and future.
The people referred to were two of the twelve tribes of Israel, but were only singled out as they had received the worst treatment from the Jewish inhabitants of the lands ruled by the king of Assyria (Israel and Judah), who was initially tolerant, but then rooted them out,and by Shalmaneser who captured Somalia and carried Israel into captivity. But hope was coming – in Galilee (which included a Gentile area in its north). The people had done nothing specific to bring this complete change of situation – it was to be God’s free gift.
Darkness means all the bad things they did as well as the misfortune in which they lived, as well as the feeling of being prisoners in a foreign land.
The multiplied nation was both Jews and Gentiles. A yoke was a heavy wooden frame to help carry a burden, the staff and the rod were for enforcing the burden carrying – God destroyed the weight of the burden through the Messiah, and in the fires, as effectively as he’d destroyed the Midianites with just 300 men. The biggest positive was that God appointed Gideon (a very unlikely hero) to free them (Isaiah seems to have been very affected by this and mentions it twice more!).

The child “born to us” that Isaiah speaks of, for Christians is clearly Jesus.  Being born as a child illustrates the humanity of the son of God.  But Jewish people at the time of Isaiah and Micah said that the description referred to Hezekiah, the then King of Israel. Although known as great and good, it seems odd that “Mighty God” could be ascribed to Hezekiah without claims of blasphemy!  God promised David the throne forever, but while Hezekiah managed it for about 29 years, in Jesus that is fulfilled.

3) Comfort for God’s people (Isaiah 40:1-10)

This passage seems to foreshadow John the Baptist. John the Baptist was in the wilderness, like the ancient custom of princes to send who sent pioneers  to prepare the way that they were to go (actually we still do this now).
“Comfort, O comfort My people,” says your God…. that (their) iniquity has been removed…” (Isaiah 40:1,2). God is holy, pure and righteous. There must be payment made for our sin or we are lost. Jesus sacrificed Himself to atone for our sins. He became “the way” back to the Father (John 14:6).  God forgives on His terms, not ours. To reject the gospel is to reject God’s forgiveness. Man may try to reinvent a God who forgives through other means than faith in Christ, but in truth there is no other way (Acts 4:12; Acts 3:37,38).

4) Being born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2)

So why Bethlehem?  Why not Jerusalem, the holy city?
The location of the messiah’s birth was prophesied by Micah.  Like Isaiah, Micah was a prophet during the reigns of JothamAhaz, and Hezekiah, roughly 737–690 BC.  He’s considered one of the minor prophets, speaking out against the greed of the wealthy classes who grew rich by breaking the Jewish people’s Covenant with God.  He prophesied the return of the great ruler from Bethlehem and the peace that would come from this.

Matthew has the star (Numbers 24:17) stop in Bethlehem – not possible given the  distance of the stars, but possible if the sky worked like the ancients believed, with a firmament in which the stars hung.
Luke has a census require Joseph take his heavily pregnant wife hundreds of miles to register, at the Emperor Augustus’s request, in the town of his ancestor – possibly a misunderstanding of the scale or nature of census taking before 74AD by Vespasian and Titus.  But he was a historian – it seems unlikely he’d’ve mentioned a journey to Bethlehem unless something else had also mentioned it.

But while the line of David would be of no interest to the Romans, but the Romans would have left it up to the leadership of the regions to carry out the census. It is clear from various verses that Jewish customs were taken seriously when conducting Roman affairs. Pontious Pilate released a prisoner on the Passover, Herod was king & was an Edomite (from Esau) and did many things to please the Romans and the Jews to get what he wanted, there was still Jewish currency for temple and Roman currency for tax (e.g. Jewish currency wasn’t completely outlawed). So, although the Romans wouldn’t have cared about the line of David, the leadership would have probably used their knowledge of Jewish customs and culture to help run things as smoothly as possible.

By contrast, Matthew just seems to have the holy family living in Bethlehem for a bit.

————————————-

Ultimately, as someone put it to me “it doesn’t matter whether the snake talked, it’s what it said that matters”.

There are lots of people who claimed to be the Messiah or prophets – Jesus himself points this out (Matthew 7:15; Matthew 24:11; Matthew 24:23-25; Mark 13:21-23). But none of them fulfil even a fraction of the prophecies that Jesus did.
Fulfilling many of the prophecies is not something that an individual that can arrange for themselves, in advance.

And when neither John (the last gospel) nor Mark (the first gospel) mention the birth of Jesus at all – his mission and death being the main issues for believers and entirely in keeping with both Jewish traditional scripture style and explanation of the Jewish Messiah via the Greco-Roman tradition.

A merry Christmas to you all.

——————————————————–

*= Footnote:
When it comes to dating the New Testament books (our primary source of information about Christ), there are differences between conservative and liberal scholars but only in terms of decades, not centuries. For example, the conservative dating for the Gospel of Mark is between A.D. 50-60, with more liberal scholars placing it around A.D. 70. This is remarkable, when you consider that Jesus died somewhere around the year A.D. 30; these are authentic eyewitness accounts. Generally speaking, Paul’s letters were written between A.D. 50-66, the gospels between A.D. 50-70, with John’s gospel being written sometime around A.D. 80-90. If you can believe it, we actually have a fragment of John’s gospel dated just after the end of the first century.To discover the accuracy of copying for the New Testament material and see whether or not it has been “changed,” you have to look at two factors: One, the number of manuscripts existing today; and two, the time period between the original document and the earliest manuscripts still in existence today. The more manuscripts we have and the closer the manuscripts are to the original, the more we are able to determine where copyist errors happened and which copies reflect the original.

For example, the book Natural History, written by Pliny Secundus, has 7 manuscript copies with a 750-year gap between the earliest copy and the original text. The number two book in all of history in manuscript authority is The Iliad, written by Homer, which has 643 copies with a 400-year gap.

Now this is a little startling: the New Testament has currently 24,970 manuscript copies, completely towering over all other works of antiquity. In addition, we have one fragment of the New Testament (NT) with only a 50-year gap from the original, whole books with only a 100-year gap, and the whole NT with only a 225-250-year gap. I don’t think there is any question from all of these early copies that we know exactly what the original documents said.

Feeling autumnal, feeding autumnal

(not my pork, but a very similar looking one from Asda magazine!)

I promised to share a recipe that we made up the other week and which turned out to be totally delicious and perfect for autumn.

Pork and Cider Casserole

4 pork neck steaks
1 330ml bottle decent cider
pork/ chicken/ vegetable stock cube
1  bag chantenay carrots, topped and tailed
8 portabellini mushrooms, sliced
2 eating apples, cubed or in neat slices
flour
4 sprigs rosemary
salt, pepper, dried thyme
olive oil

(one chopped onion and two crushed garlic cloves)
(crème fraiche)

We started off by coating the steaks in flour, and browning them in the olive oil.  Put them into a big lidded pan for the oven (we used a Le Creuset).
Once that’s done, really you should cook the onion and garlic in the same pan until the onions are golden after which they should go in the same oven pan as the pork.
But we forgot to add them all together and the casserole was still delicious.

Next, we added half the carrots, all the mushroom and apple to the pan, frying these a bit to release the flavours,  then tipped those into the same pan.  Seasoning with the salt, pepper and thyme, we topped up the pan with cider so that pork and bits were completely covered, adding the rosemary sprigs to the top.
We dissolved a stock cube in a little bit of boiling water and stirred in the resulting goop.
This all went into the oven at 180c for an hour and a half.  You could take the lid off for the last half hour to reduce the sauce into something nice and sticky.
You could stir in crème fraiche at the last minute if you like.

We served ours with jacket potatoes, and more carrots (the other half bag) – yum.  Just the thing now the nights are drawing in…

The point of Christmas is…

This year I will be having Christmas in three major parts: once with my parents and enormously pregnant sibling (technically it’s his wife that’s pregnant but you know what I mean),  once with my in-laws and once with my husband’s sister’s family.

What’s Christmas about for me?
I always like “going home” for Christmas: the English winter, the prospect that there might be a light dusting of snow, the dark green pine tree with sparkly decorations, the sort of magic that candle flames and twinkling lights in the dark brings, midnight mass or the child-friendly crib service.
I love the food, the family traditions, and now I’m older and have my own child creating tradition of our own (we’re not big turkey fans, so working out what we want instead and getting it supplied locally is part of the fun).
TV seems to play quite a major role too – not so much the Queen’s speech any more, but certainly Doctor Who or Wallace and Gromit on Christmas day. And now my son’s a bit bigger, the post dinner walk is a bit more important for all of us – we can walk off dinner and he can burn off a bit of energy.

But it’s the Christmas service at church that’s so beautiful and so essentially part of the whole thing for me.  As a regular churchgoer, I’m representative of over half of the UK population in terms of my faith (according to Tearfund in 2007), with 7.9 million attending church monthly and 4.9 million weekly (of which about 1.1 million are for my particular denomination).
The numbers shoot up at Christmas – those with a negative agenda on this will call this “cultural Christianity” and say that those people don’t count or should describe themselves as not Christian in the 2011 Census count, but frankly I’m pleased to see anyone that wants to be there and if they want to self-define as Christian that is surely their business and not that of the BHA.

Children and Christmas
What about children’s perceptions of Christmas?   With the church-going caveat firmly in my mind, I asked my toddler what was special about Christmas.
“It my birthday!” he said.
No, sweetie, you’ve had your birthday.
“It Jesus birthday… but I get presents”, he said, unprompted.
I quizzed him a bit more.  Apparently he wants to see his grandparents and his cousins, but Father Christmas is a character on Peppa Pig.  He’s quite excited about carrying a candle in the church too.

Is he typical?  Well, in 2006 there was some research done (and admittedly with older children), handily put in one place on the internet by the Evangelical Alliance which showed that not all children see Christmas time as a wholly positive experience:

Reported in the Daily Mail 19 December 2006

  • 44% of 7-11 year-olds regarded Christmas day as a celebration of the birth of Jesus – although in Northern Ireland the figure rose to 71%.
  • Although 89% were excited, and 79% were happy about the holiday period, one in six said they felt sad, nervous or left out at Christmas.
  • Perhaps not so surprisingly, one in four (24%) believed the season was about giving, rather than receiving, presents.
  • Giving clearly matters, however, with almost two-thirds (63%) saving their pocket money to buy presents, adding up to an average piggy-bank of £34. 33% nationally and 45% in Scotland managed to save more than £50

What other sorts of Christmas are there?
So what’s the point of a secular Christmas? It seems pretty much that Christmas just becomes an occasion to get together with family or friends,  give them gifts to show you love them, eat food and keep warm and have light in an otherwise pretty depressing time of year.
That was certainly the message from last year’s intro sequence to the Doctor Who Christmas special…
It’s also the message from endless American movies about the true meaning of Christmas.

Well, that’s lovely.

I just wonder whether, if you don’t go to church because you explicitly reject the Christ bit of Christmas, whether you reject the non-christian but religious-routed elements too?
The pagan festival of Yule falls on 21 December, celebrating the return of the light after the shortest day of the year (celebrating the rebirth of the sun, not the sun, as one wiccan put it), with the similar festival for Mithras, Roman god of light, on 25 December.
Wiccans use oak and holly to represent the summer and winter (think about the Christmas song “The Holly and the Ivy” and the traditional yule log – which was a big bit of oak and not a chocolate swiss roll in years gone by). Feasting and giving gifts was a tradition of Saturnalia (the Roman festival on 17 December).
The good news is that mice pies should still be available to you – they seem to originate with Henry V, and Christmas pudding too seems to be without religious significance.
Is that all there is to Christmas?
Ok, so there’s a bunch of traditions and a chance to catch up with family.  Is that it?
Or, how does the story of a baby born over 2000 years ago in a backwater of the Roman empire relate to any of this?
Tell you what, rather than me write it all out here, here’s a fantastic idea… the Natwivity!

The art of storytelling has been part of the church since it all began, so think of the Natwivity as a Nativity play for the Internet generation.  Put it this way – if you’re the sort of person to read blogs, then you might also be onFacebook, or on Twitter.
The press release tells me that “the Natwivity takes advantage of social media’s unparalleled capacity to engage people as they go about their everyday life to re-tell the Christmas story in a fresh, personal way. It is possible to follow on Twitter and Facebook and you’ll be able to pick up the ‘tweets’ at home, in the high street on your phone and at work”.

I’m really looking forward to it – the point about using 140 character tweets is that there should be an immediate, real-life feel.
Each day from throughout Advent (1st December to Christmas Day), different members of the cast will tweet a140-character update. They include Joseph, Mary, the shepherds, the three wise men and King Herod.

By reading these daily tweets, followers can learn more about each character’s thoughts and feelings, from Mary’s angst as she rides on a donkey over the hills of Bethlehem right through to the night the shepherd’s saw their familiar hills illuminated by an angelic host.

So if you were wondering at all about the Christ in Christmas, or just feel nostalgic for the primary school Christmas play where you only got to be Third Shepherd or a non-speaking Angel, why not follow @natwivity on Twitter, or “like” www.facebook.com/natwivity.

And Merry Christmas!
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Natwivity is hosted by the award-winning team (Jerusalem Awards) behindEasterLIVE, a similar project last Easter; Share Creative and the Evangelical Alliance.