Singing in the faux-dusk of LED streetlamps, two robins fling phrases back and forth. Each challenge in their musical duel is met with a rebuttal from the opposing bird, tauntingly similar in structure yet moving the duet on with new variations on the theme. This stream of sound, carrying gently through the descending drizzle, stops me in my tracks. I listen; the birds continue, the closest of them seemingly oblivious to my presence just a few meters from his song perch.
It’s Christmas. (In case you hadn’t noticed.) Which, especially this year, seems to mean it’s time, in the best spirit of seasonal love and peace, to harangue each other for our beliefs about what it all means. Even the name of the season is a point of contention, such that I daresay I’ve set somebody off on a rant simply by typing the word ‘Christmas’. So I’m here today in my self-appointed role as referee of this philosophical slugging match, to call time on the fight. Secularists, atheists, humanists, whatever you call yourselves – yes, we know. We know that Christmas is a borrowed festival, shoe-horned by the Romans into old pagan rites to encourage people to convert people to Christianity. But let’s face it: the religious elements you dislike aren’t going to go away anytime soon just because you made a few snarky comments on somebody’s well-meant ‘Merry Christmas’ Facebook message, or retweeted something clever that a celebrity atheist said.
For that matter, Christians: knock it off. Yes, you’ve been on the scene for a long time now and deserve to be heard. But you don’t own festivals that celebrate light coming into darkness. Jesus may be the reason for this particular iteration of the season, but he didn’t invent it. And do bear in mind that there are at least two narratives of his birth presented in the New Testament which just about flatly contradict each other*, even to the point that it’s not even clear he was born in Bethlehem (Nazareth seems more likely). Whatever purpose these stories were written for, it’s unlikely to have been as factual historical accounts. Try focusing less on what supposedly happened, and more on the deeper meaning that lies beneath and you may discover a more radical, less divisive Christmas.
I’m not sure when this happened, but I’ve become an invertebrate activist. Attending the fifth annual New Networks for Nature event last week, I found myself keeping eyes and ears alert for all things spineless. I must say, it took a while before I was satisfied. With apologies to Hattie Ellis, whose presentation on the contribution of honey and bees to human culture was really quite interesting, honeybees don’t count. Everybody likes bees nowadays, don’t they? So I was delighted when Brett Westwood began his contribution to the ‘What Does It Mean To Be A Naturalist?’ session by putting up a photograph of a slug, sat on top of a mushroom. Now that was more like it! A lemon slug at that. Not a creature I’d ever heard of before, but I think it’s fair to say that lemon slugs were one of the surprise hits of the weekend.