Bishop Owen Featherhead, retired Bishop of Burchett Hill, has suggested that the date of Christmas be changed to "make the festival more relevant to ordinary Australians", nominating as "an ideal new date" as April 26, "which is also, of course, the birthday of Mahomet."
"Would it not be a lovely idea," he writes in the Burchett Hill Anglican, "and one expressive of our ecumenical commitment to all people of goodwill, if the birth dates of the founders of our two great religions were twinned into one festival in which all who look with faith at the stable in Bethlehem and, er, wherever the Great Prophet was born could share their yuletide joy?"
Bishop Featherhead said that the calendar fixing Christmas Day on 25 December was "an artificial Western construct which rightly gives offence to many of our sisters and brothers of different faith traditions. To do away with it," he said, "would be a huge step forward in building that fraternal sisterhood of humankind which is the purpose of all true religion."
Bishop Featherhead said that moving Christmas to April, when the weather is cooler, would also "eliminate the anomaly of Australians trying to enjoy traditional Christmas festivities, such as eating roast goose and listening for the sound of sleigh bells in the snow, when it’s a hundred, I mean thirty-seven, in the shade." He continued: "I admit it is unlikely we would get snow in April, but hail or autumn mist would be a not unacceptable substitute, and I cannot be alone in thinking that the Christmas ham – well not ham of course if we are celebrating a joint Christmas and Mahometmass – would taste no sweeter at that time of year."
Historically, said Bishop Featherhead, combining the Christian and Muslim festivals was "peeling away centuries of colonialist accretions and going back to the root of things." He said that "viewed from that angle, the births of our two bundles of joy were not that different in circumstance. True, Mahomet was the child of a wealthy family and Our Other Saviour a victim of deprived economic circumstances, but in both cases there are accounts of signs and portents, a traditional indication of divine intervention in human events."
A further advantage of moving Christmas to 26 April, the Bishop writes, is that it would be "a healthy corrective to the militaristic excesses" of Anzac Day. "We are constantly reminded by our leading thinkers in the media and academe that Anzac Day has degenerated into – indeed always was – an excuse for glorifying war and celebrating the worst aspects of masculinity. To follow it next day with a festival of peace and goodwill, kindness and consideration – all the feminine virtues – could be nothing but beneficial."
As to the prospects of extending a joint Christian and Muslim festival to the third "religion of the Book", the Bishop admits he is pessimistic. "It is unfortunate," he concludes, "that we would be unable to invite members of the Jewish faith to join us in our ecumenical celebrations, but to do so – apart from their having no bonny baby whose birth to celebrate – would be to seem to sanction murderous Israeli aggression against the displaced people of Syria and Transjordan and that would not accord with the preaching of a religion founded on love."
Christopher Akehurst, who chronicles life in the exquisitely sensitive and tolerant community of Burchett Hill, blogs at Argus