I’ve always sort of fancied Jesus. I don’t think it’s so much the fact he could probably get his Dad to pull some strings for you and get that fine waived for picking flowers from the roundabout shrubbery, or even the water to wine trick, but the fact he’s just a bit…elusive. Like Doctor Who, or Patrick Swayze in Ghost. He’s not really there, mainly coz he’s dead. That’s fit. I don’t think he’d be offended by that.
Jesus started flirting with me when I was about 13, I guess. I went to an American-style Christian jamboree in the park with some friends, lured mainly by the size of the big top style tent. I thought there might be lions and clowns and acrobats, but it was actually Kriss Akabusi bouncing around with a microphone. Despite this, I had fun. I heard a lot about Jesus. It was pretty Jesus-themed on the whole. Christians dig him.
When I got home I hid in the potting shed for a bit because I hadn’t told my mum I was going to an evangelical circus and I thought it might be safer if she thought I’d run away or been abducted or murdered. When I finally ventured in, she was more unsettled by the truth: I had been singing along to Christian soft-rock. I think she thought Kriss Akabusi had spiked my lemonade and done a Lycra voodoo conversion dance in my face. I fell in line and scoffed at religion to reassure her, but inside something had shifted. It was the first time I had been moved to tears by the story of Jesus. I had felt the emotion of a tent of hundreds of people who believed he was the son of the dude who made bird’s wings and bee’s knees, and rather than laughing I was moved. It doesn’t matter that I hadn’t believed the core tenets, merely that I had listened, contemplated, and felt something, for and with people.
I felt closer to Jesus after that. I noticed him around more. Churchyards, postcards given out by precociously polite young men in suits on my doorstep, framed iridescent pictures of him doing a two-fingered healing salute to some lambs in Oxfam. He was sort of everywhere, and I liked him.
Around the same sort of age as the brief introduction to happy-clapping, I read To Kill A Mockingbird and thought Atticus Finch was the best man ever created in the whole of literature. It didn’t matter that he was a character of fiction, it mattered that the story struck important notes deep within me, notes of love, tolerance, kindness, justice, and morality. I cried for Jesus, I cried for Atticus. I have cried for lots of men, real and unreal. Woody from Toy Story probably wins the award for Most Mascara Sadie Has Wasted Over An Imaginary Being. I’ve sploshed my eyeball essence around quite liberally if I’m honest. But if crying over stories about made-up men was a foolish thing to do, if emotional reactions to them weren’t good for humans somehow, fiction would have ceased to exist a long time ago. We have enough true stories to keep us moved, inspired and entertained. But we choose to invest ourselves just as devotedly in fiction as we do in truth. We need it. We wouldn’t know what to do without it. And the blurred lines between the two is enough to keep us fired up for millennia, in all sorts of ways.
I fell out of the thrall of Christmas for about a decade. In my disenchantment with it I even wondered if it was a more honest state for an atheist: borderline Scroogedom; the grumpiness of non-belief. It was dull. Not believing anything can be quite dull. But now I’m back, and ready to get back on the happy wagon.
I realise now, in coming back to Christmas after a few years of just going through the motions of it, that I am also returning to something else. In my not feeling festive, I was shutting out things, and thus wallowing in myself with my own concerns, which is essentially selfish. Coming back to Christmas means coming back to people, and that’s always a good thing.
Jesus looks pretty hot for 2013 years old. I will think of him tomorrow on his birthday in between mince pies, I will hum my favourite carol Oh Holy Night, and I will think of what he means to others, before I eat another mince pie. It doesn’t matter if I don’t believe, it doesn’t matter if it’s just a story – if a story makes you feel things, it’s a pretty good story, right?
No matter how much I don’t believe in him, I’ll always sort of want him to drop by one day, give me a wink and confound my dull science. Plus, I bet he’s a really good kisser.