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”

And Merry Christmas!

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


image from

What’s wrong with you, you may well ask?

I’ve had a summer broadly off Euroblogging, in the main part because so little happens in Brussels in August.
I’ve also for work purposes avoided blogging on a number of EU-related issues which interest me.  A necessary sacrifice.
So EU-wise my blog’s been a bit quiet recently.

The thing is, I’ve also used the time to work out a bit what I care about, what motivates me to blog.   Yep, it’s my navel gazing post only a month after the majority of EU blogs went through this …

Over the last couple of years, my euroblogging has evolved to be focused on the UK’s relationship with the EU, and looking at the EU through a gender focus and faith focus.  I blog irregularly as I’ve other commitments, but I hope my slightly different take is interesting for my readers.  And I think overall I’m pretty happy with these things as my euroblogging USP.

I mean, I could critique the current common transport policy, the Tax Payers’ Alliance’s problems with the Trans European Networks Executive Agency, or seafarers and the ILO, but I’m not sure that would be very interesting.  I’ve tried to cover my interest in transport via practical posts on HS1 instead…
I’ve never cared a lot about agriculture beyond what I can see in the fields or arrives on my plate, and much as I care about climate change I’m just not sure enough on my numbers to do in-depth critiques of these sort of things.  So when I do do something in-depth, I probably do care about it, and I do know what I’m talking about.  I hope.
And have put off playing with my toddler to write it.

At the moment, with the “new school term” coming, I’m getting a bit of  a sinking back to school feeling.
I’m not quite sure why, but I suspect there’s an element of  not feeling very inspired by politics overall at the moment.

In the UK there’s a big and actually quite exciting political experiment going on – the first coalition government in a very long time and a referendum coming on a change to a voting system that none of the political parties specifically wants.
But while the big picture is exciting, day to day life is currently a question of which public service is going to change next and what does that mean for daily life for my friends and family.  And the attitude to the EU is – complicated.

And in the EU, there’s a weird sort of situation.
While the Lisbon Treaty is implemented (but hardly to public acclaim), and European External Action Service is established (and as male-dominated as we feared and expected), and the Council President is up and running (with an eye on consolidating a more wide ranging role during the Belgian Presidency of the EU), and all the little changes are put in place, I just don’t feel that there’s anything in particular to be enthusiastic about.
The euro is hanging in there, but I’m not finding discussions about greater economic governance inspiring – may be I would if the UK had been part of it and my daily life were being affected, but we’re not in “prepare and decide” mode any more, nor even “wait and see”.
And how long did it take the EU to get its act together for the people in Pakistan?

On top of that, I’m slowly realising that there’s no easy way back to Brussels in the near future.  To work there again any time soon, I’d need to make some pretty serious life changes.  I may not even work on EU issues soon.  But that gives me more scope to blog 🙂

I’m never going to be a daily blogger, or a several-times-a-day one.
I’m fed up with feeling that unless you can give all hours of the day to something, you are ancillary to it.  How on earth can any parent give 100% to anything, including their kids, and still make a difference in their other spheres of interest?  Why can’t the quality of contribution count as well as quantity?
And when it’s something I do for the fun of it, to test ideas and provoke conversations, I’m certainly not buying into a set of rules of the how and when.  I’m definitely a cat to herd rather than a sheep and so I guess I know I’m in good company in the euroblogging world 🙂

So I’m feeling a bit Eurobleugh.
I’m not in the mood for flannel, or theory over experience and applied example.
I want to know that it’s all worthwhile, that there really is an added value to me as a citizen in what’s going on – at all levels of decision-making.
I guess it’d be lovely to be seeing something happening that actually makes a difference for the good, rather than being the least worst option available.

So now I’ve got all that off my chest, let’s start September euroblogging with a positive attitude and see if there’s some good, persuasive arguments for what’s going on out there…

Doing the job: debating the top euroblogs?

Well, if the Waagener Edstrom list of the most influential euroblogs was designed to provoke debate, it certainly has done amongst the eurobloggers.

Jon Worth, the fifth most influential according to the list, had to invite himself to the study’s launch.
Nosemonkey, whose authoritative, informative blog is regularly nominated for best blog awards finished outside the top 10.

, Mathew’s Tagsmanian Devil(top 20!) and EURoman (a site I’ll admit I’d never heard of before today have all critiqued in a lot of detail.

For me, a few thoughts:
1)  the USA is being held up as the model against which to judge how influential the EU blogosphere is – but is that a realistic comparison?
Is it actually what people writing euroblogs are aspiring to?

Importing a methodology used in the US and the comparisons with the US blogging scene as if this something that the Euroblogosphere should be aspired to become like may also have added to the distortionary effect.

The EU is not the USA, and I don’t think it’s right to say one if  ahead of or more advance than the other.  The US doesn’t have the multicultural, multilingual diversity of the EU at its federal level, so while an English-language blog in the US might have a widespread influence, one in Brussels might have a lesser impact, similarly one in French, German etc. as the potential audience reading in that language for interest and pleasure is smaller.
Plus with Jon Worth announcing he’s moving to London, Nosemonkey in London, ghost blogger Julien Frisch until recently in Germany, Joe Litobarski in Italy, is labelling it  the “Brussels Blog” survey really getting the full EU blogging picture?  I agree with EURoman Christian, local interpretation of EU stories is definitely an important factor.

I’m also not convinced that there has to be “a purpose”- the best euroblogs from my reading perspective are those where the author’s found something of interest and run with it because they are interested, not because they are paid to do so, or are single purpose.

Eurobloggers that are most interesting to me tend to be amateur rather than professional journalists – that’s why the alternative views can prevail.

While the excellent bloggingportal team tries to galvinise us into something more coherent, the actual effect has been a bit like trying to herd cats.

2)  What are Eurobloggers writing about?
While in the US the Washington world is probably exciting enough to fully occupy bloggers, most EU blogs I read seem to also have interest in other things – whether that’s Jon Worth’s sportsblog or Joe Litobarski’s musings from Ethiopia.

I’m an occasional euroblogger, who, through a combination of not-covering-some-things-because-I-value-my-job and blogging on things other than the EU (primarily parenting, feminism, local issues and faith), is never going to make it high up the Euroblog rankings.

That’s fine by me – I was flattered to even be listed in Fleishman-Hillard’s citizen blogs list for just that reason-

4) Where did the blogs under consideration come from?
While I understand that my own blog’s too random to fit the primarily EU-focussed criteria, I’m a bit surprised that none of the blogs of the EU girl geeks appear even to have been in consideration: where was Europasionaria? Euonym? Lino the Rhino?
Or did I just miss the longlist of blogs that were considered?

3) Twitter is where it’s at…
While eurobloggers do try to take time to comment on each other’s blogs, as Eurogoblin points out, it’s Twitter where we really talk to each other, share information, views, debate and discuss.  And all in 140 characters.
The last great Euroblogger meet-up online was hosted on Skype in the end, with Twitter and Googlewave elements.
So we have to ask – to shape debate in social media- whether our individual blogs are the place where that’s done most effectively is a debate for another day…

What’s the politics equivalent of CofE?

When the census was published in 2001, the big story was the religion box and the internet rumours about how if enough people put Jedi as their religion it had to be “officially recognised”. Absolute rubbish of course, but nevertheless 390,000 people said that they were Jedi’s leading to this rather fab report title on the ONS website…
37.3 million of the 53 million respondents to the census gave their religion as “Christian”.  Individual denominations were not specified, nor was there any breakdown between practising and non-practising because the census records the label that people choose for themselves.

Just about anyone you ask will tell you that practically no one goes to church on a Sunday (actually it’s more people than go to football matches each week, but no one’s saying that football’s on it’s way out and the stadiums should be converted into bijou residences, are they?) 
And indeed speculation at the time was that many people that had said that had done so out of habit or tradition – that they were not really Christian other than for hatches, matches and dispatches, and that many people would’ve preferred to put “C of E” rather than Christian in any case becuase it conveys a sort of equivocal, half-hearted, keeping the door ajar approach rather than a total immersion.

I suspect that actually there’s something very British about this sort of attitude.  Andrew Marr pointed out in his excellent series “The Making of Modern Britain” that what probably saved the UK from Oswald Mosely’s fascism was the British sense of humour, that we don’t commit too lightly or take things too seriously (look how long Jedward managed to stay in the X Factor if you need a more trivial example). 
CofE means: of all the faiths that I’m not currently practising, this is the one whose service I didn’t go to on Sunday… 
If that’s true, I guess they were the people that would’ve found my last three churches (TBT at Christchurch Mayfair, Holy Trinity Brussels and St Mark’s Battersea) a bit “too much”, not CofE in the sense they mean it. But I digress.

So I’ve just found this excellent post over at Sharpe’s Opinion, which sets out in a short, neat way something I’ve thought a bit about for some time. 

Political party membership is falling in the UK, and I think that part of the problem is that to join a political party, you need to feel that you subscribe to all of a diverse range of policies (and pay for the privelege of saying that you do so).
Actually I remember my politics teacher at school saying exactly that- that she had never signed up to a political party because she could not support the whole message of any of them. And she was one of the cleverest people I knew (Miss Pickles, you were a legend!  But as she was a sit-up-and-beg-bicycling, bun-wearing non-TV watcher I’m not honestly expecting to be able to find anything online from her to hyperlink to other than this link to the school…)

So you might be someone that thinks marriage is the best thing for encouraging families to stay together and that there should be tax breaks to encourage this, but pro-European. 
Or you might favour positive action in recruitment for women, disabled people and minority groups, but strongly in favour of grammar schools as the best way to help bright children from disadvantaged backgrounds be socially mobile. 
Or you might be in favour of local income tax but own a house worth over £2 million.
(Just to clarify this is not me we’re talking about in these examples – I don’t even own a house!). 
In each case, your two interests would conflict with two of the few clear policies espoused by a major political party.

So – assuming that there’s no one policy area on which you are intending to be a single issue activist – how would you be able to “commit” enough to actually “do” something in politics to make the world a better place?
It’s not that easy at the moment.
If – as it seems from my paddling in the UK and EU political blogospheres- one of the main ways of getting your voice hear is through the team/ brand loyalty of a political party.  This guarantees you a pool of potential readers who will click onto or link to your blog just because you’ve got a little bird or tree or rose emblem just like theirs (or indeed a different one to theirs).  There will be lists that you can get onto, bringing more readers to debate with in the comments section and share ideas and build your knowledge. 
But these of course are the hardcore supporters, and while bloggers like Iain Dale are clear that they are not official party mouthpieces, they do tend to take a my-party-right-or-no-actually-we’re-always-right type of attitude (unless on an issue where they’re personally affected in which case they try to justify both views).
And what happens if, like Charlotte Gore, you fall out of love with your party over bits of what they stand for? 
It’s a bit like a religion isn’t it?  But while exegesis or midrash are “allowed” in some religious circles, and small group discussion is thought to help you understand and deepen your faith, there will always be some people who are happy with the simple faith version, looking for an easy label and willing to say “C of E” and get back to mowing the lawn without trying to go into what it means and why.  And indeed there will always be some people within the faith that don’t want you to do more than parrot back received wisdom – could that be said to be the case for political parties too, as in “we have clever people to do the thinking and they’ve come up with this, take it or leave it?”

So can anything be done to make this better?
Not clear.  Experiments like Jury Team tried to overcome the political party system, but the polling at the 2009 European elections for their independent candidates was hardly spectacular. 
Esther Rantzen might be trying to use her celebrity in a Martin Bell-like manner to stand against a politician whose morals she disagrees with, but she’s not exactly standing on a platform of anything that people can sign up to positively, merely that she’s been known in the past as a consumer champion and is not the sitting candidate.
I suspect that actually a different electoral system allowing for coalition politics might be part of the solution. 
Then, I don’t know, pro-European Tories could be free to praise the benefits of the EU to the rooftops, Labour supporters that think that an insurance-based healthcare system might actually be better than the current NHS, and Lib Dems who think that students should pay tuition fees would all be free to say what they think without fear of losing the whip or never getting on in their party and therefore never making it to the front benches/ government. 
Maybe the way to avoid groupthink and to really stimulate new ideas is to have lots of different groups suggesting them.  And while I guess there’s a Pythonesque risk of ending up with the Judean People’s Front/ People’s Front of Judea, at least it would be debate out in the open rather than manifestos out the front but little black books and the like behind the scenes.

Of course which ever party forms a government via which ever political system, I’m sure they’ll do their best to be a good govenment.  But as the old saying goes, it doesn’t matter who you vote for, the government always gets in. 
I guess there might be a lot of people out there wondering which is the “C of E” option on the ballot papers…

Eurobloggers United…

Well, it actually happened and I was there.

What was this momentous event?

It was the first get together of eurobloggers.  At Joe Litobarski’s instigation we met online – initally via twitter, Google wave, IM etc. but actually in the end via Skype’s IM system after a conference call for more than 20 proved unwieldy (and my microphone wouldn’t turn off, meaning everyone could hear my toddler enjoying the Sarah Jane Adventures).

We discussed overcoming language issues in EU blogging – en anglais English, evidemment (something that makes me as a native English speaker both grateful and a bit guilty) – and the solution to better linking up and boosting the readership of EU blogs and conversations between bloggers is likely to be a bit linguistic, a bit techie, and reliant on the willingness and goodwill of all those involved.
I couldn’t stay for it all – evening events tend to end up clashing with toddler bed time although he did very well and his fathe’s arrival home meant I wasn’t too neglectful, but eventually bedtime had to come.

Congratulations, Joe, on a great initiative.  And it was lovely to meet everyone.
Now let’s see where we can go from here!

A few thoughts on feminism…

MotherhoodImage(Image from the brilliant

I’ve joined the British Mummy Bloggers social network. While the new blog hasn’t covered much parenting yet, it will do.
I was struck by the categories used as forums on the site, and joined the foodie, writing and feminist groups immediately.

Yes, I feel a bit uncomfortable with the word.
Here’s my comment on the forum in all its glory…

For me, feminism is not about being and acting like men, but about gaining respect for things that are important to me as a woman.
The dungaree-wearing, man-hating, bra-burning stereotype seems to me to be fading away, but feminism still seems to be a dirty word.
It tends to be used rather than in the equality sense as a way of portraying strong women as being in relentless pursuit of men to put them at a disadvantage, or used by usually younger women that take their clothes off in public to justify what is essentially titillation as something that makes them feel less uncomfortable ethically about something that’s earning them a lot of money…
I feel inherently uncomfortable with the term – having gone to a girls school and having had it thrown at us as an insult and often used as if it were a synonym for lesbian as opposed to a political position.

The most obvious issue on which I feel feminist is work – while of course my workplace is pretty good, why does it continue to be acceptable in the main to require parents (or others with caring responsibilities) to fit to a working pattern than causes stress and complication in their lives?
Surely you’d get the best out of people by acknowledging that they are in fact people and have lives outside the office?
Why isn’t there more term-time working/ work patterns that fit with school or nursery hours?
Do workers that work flexibly and/or part-time get taken as seriously?
Is working long hours a prerequisite for good annual reports and/or promotion prospects?
And is enough being done to help younger women focus onprofessional jobs with prospects and a future rather than just hairdressing, childcare, etc.? I hope so these days, but this is in itself complicated because in order to work I need some people providing childcare that doesn’t cost so much that it’s not worth me working…
These are the issues that I feel are what the modern feminist should focus on.

I also think that feminists need to be making the case that having children is not a “lifestyle choice” but an essential part of the continuation of the human race, and raising them is as valid a way of spending time as pursuing a “career” (I say this as someone attempting to do both, of course) but that we have the right to do both to the best of our abilities.
Women are our own worst critics – we seem to trumpet the superiority of our personal situation over those of our sisters (older women saying that younger shouldn’t have it easy because they didn’t, the constant SAHM – v- working mum rivalry, the look our best -v- accept us as we are arguments…)

But it’s more complicated than that, of course. I don’t think that being taken for fools by fashion that’s designed with an eye on women changing their bodies to fit an unattainable flat shape rather than the curves we’re meant to have (size zero? The UK average is a 16 – who are we kidding?) is something that we could or should accept – fat is a feminist issue as it used to be said.

And to continue on from that, I think that feminism has lost its way a bit.
It’s not about a right to be near naked in public or to sleep with as many men as possible and not be called a slag when theres no real male equivalent term.
It’s not about telling Muslim women not to wear a headscarf (more about listening to each woman’s reasons for choosing to do so or not, and being supportive either way).
It’s not about championing abortion as if it is a consequence-free event, ignoring the support that women need if they choose to end a pregnancy (which is a lifechanging event).
It’s not about coveting the next designer bag, latest clothes, perfect hair and grooming – we should be valuing women no matter what model of beauty they do or don’t conform to.  (I myself am Reubenesque and so a few centuries out of date…)
For me, it’s about championing the idea that women, collectively and individually have as much right to do things their way and develop as individuals and members of families and society as men do and to be encouraged, supportedand taken as seriously as men are while doing it.

I simply cannot understand why we have fewer women in politics than some in some developing countries (and was horrified by the comments from one man that only pretty women would make it past selection procedures), and so few women in very senior management roles etc. unless timeserving counts more than anything else (such as decision-making ability, leadership) and unfair selection procedures are in play somewhere in the process.  Of course a good way of doing something about this would be to incentivise men’s flexible and/or part-time working so that there was a more equal balance of men and women taking on caring roles so that this element could not be built into decisions on employing a woman as opposed to a man so easily as there would be a much more even “risk” of them needing not to work all the hours God sends…

I think feminism will either get a bit of a shot in the arm – or will be susumed into a wider set of issues of a similar nature – once you get more Generation Y in the workplace… bear with me on this.
There seems to be an expectation amongst employers that the current attitude that is perceived in GenY will eventually be replaced and that they’ll knuckle down and conform, as if thinking they can have it all their own way is youthful naiveity.
I disagree – I think that in a world where there’s no job for life, no final salary pension etc., the attraction of being a corporate drone is much less than it was say a decade ago.
This is a generation used to downloading what it wants to, instant communication with friends, mixing the personal and professional with confidence.  They’re a product of the 1980s and 1990s in which they grew up – consumerist but green, individualist and (perhaps because of having spent more time in educational or childcare environments?) more used to being indulged by working parents.  They do no easily accept being told “no”.
The only downside if you like is the constant exposure to rap music with its objectification of women and the risk that this passes over into the generational attitude… but then my husband points out that “Skins” is not actually a documentary…

So let’s hope in particular that GenY women kick up one hell of a stink if they feel they’re being treated unfairly in the workplace, or in life.  And let’s hope the men do too – after all a fight ofr recognition of the needs and diversity of the individual applies to them as much as to women.
And as the generation before them, let’s be helpful, supportive feminists to help them get there.