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Letter From British Heritage - January 2008

Originally published on Published Online: November 01, 2007 
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The Promise of Christmas

When the darkling of the winter comes upon us, then we anticipate the coming of the solstice and Christmas and the New Year. We need these occasions of hope and assurance in the land's annual rebirth and of bacchanal.

From what we know of Stonehenge and many of Britain's 600+ prehistoric circles, the earliest of Britain's peoples marked the solstice with importance. Despite what lesser gods these folk observed, their practical deity was the Sun, source of light, heat and harvest. Whatever calendar they observed, it's hardly surprising that the winter solstice was its red letter day. We may not know how they marked that day, but we have never needed to question why.

As the Christian gospel penetrated Britain in the early dark ages, Welsh and Scots, then Englishmen and Vikings, marked the changing year with the feast of Immanuel, "God with Us" in the person of the Christ Child. The "Christ mass" too promised rebirth, a renewal of hope and a collective remembrance of God's love. Over the centuries, the social celebration of Christmas has lost some of its piety, but the import of its message has remained constant: There will be peace on earth.

Despite the secularization of our day, that faith in the promise of peace has colored our society and culture indelibly. It has taken hundreds of years for us to work out as well as we have the social and human values implied in our inherited Judeo-Christian view of the world. The end of the Cold War brought the Anglo-American world a sense of optimism, which has evanesced in this new war defending the borders of Western Civilization. We find it hard to internalize that other peoples do not share our belief in peace on earth and goodwill to mankind.

Perhaps this year more than most, we need to remember the promise of peace implicit in the Christmas message, to commemorate our legacy of individual worth and freedom, and to celebrate the blessings of our shared history and hard-earned society. That's reason enough to set down our daily care and enjoy the plum pudding, rum punch and presents.

Once again, British Heritage lopes lovingly across the shires and reminds us again of the rich heritage of culture and history that we treasure. And when we need a smile, it's time to go to the panto!

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