For all the discussion about Christmas being commercialised, one thing has not changed – namely, that Christmas remains a children’s festival. That will have much to do with why we enjoy – or endure – the array of Christmas pop songs for weeks before Boxing Day, but there are virtually no Easter pop songs. J. S. Bach did both Christmas and Easter oratorios, but that’s another matter.
The truth is that for those who wish to include a serious message with the festivities, this age is more demanding than the past for a variety of reasons. For instance, one newspaper commentator pointed out that we do not know the identity of the ‘genius’ who thought of combining celebration of the Incarnation with the pagan Yuletide, but nowadays that person would struggle to convince us about his or her spiritual revelation as distinct from public relations savvy. (Billy Graham managed that, but some others did not.) Again, it is hard to take the message of peace, common to all the religions, as seriously as we might wish when it is blatantly flouted by professed followers of each and every one. In the case of Christianity the defence that God gave us free will can seem less persuasive in a time when Christian humility does not appear to be the same as taking pride in accepting paradoxes.
Perhaps this age is so cynical just for the paradoxical reason that we expect more of ourselves (morally, that is) than we used to, and fewer people really believe that a merciful God will forgive our shortcomings. That is not, of course, the same as saying that we do or don’t do better than in the past, although Steven Pinker thinks we are getting better. So, no wonder many of us leave Christmas as holiday time and sing along with Slade.