Xmas and Christmas – C S Lewis

Some of you have enquired about the C S Lewis essay from which came my sermon illustration this morning, so I am posting the whole essay for those who are interested.  For me what is really interesting is that this essay was published, not recently, but nearly 65 years ago!!

Xmas and Christmas: A Lost Chapter from Herodotus

by C. S. Lewis

And beyond this there lies in the ocean, turned towards the west and north, the island of Niatirb which Hecataeus indeed declares to be the same size and shape as Sicily, but it is larger, though in calling it triangular a man would not miss the mark. It is densely inhabited by men who wear clothes not very different from the other barbarians who occupy the north western parts of Europe though they do not agree with them in language. These islanders, surpassing all the men of whom we know in patience and endurance, use the following customs.

In the middle of winter when fogs and rains most abound they have a great festival which they call Exmas and for fifty days they prepare for it in the fashion I shall describe. First of all, every citizen is obliged to send to each of his friends and relations a square piece of hard paper stamped with a picture, which in their speech is called an Exmas-card. But the pictures represent birds sitting on branches, or trees with a dark green prickly leaf, or else men in such garments as the Niatirbians believe that their ancestors wore two hundred years ago riding in coaches such as their ancestors used, or houses with snow on their roofs. And the Niatirbians are unwilling to say what these pictures have to do with the festival; guarding (as I suppose) some sacred mystery. And because all men must send these cards the marketplace is filled with the crowd of those buying them, so that there is great labour and weariness.

But having bought as many as they suppose to be sufficient, they return to their houses and find there the like cards which others have sent to them. And when they find cards from any to whom they also have sent cards, they throw them away and give thanks to the gods that this labour at least is over for another year. But when they find cards from any to whom they have not sent, then they beat their breasts and wail and utter curses against the sender; and, having sufficiently lamented their misfortune, they put on their boots again and go out into the fog and rain and buy a card for him also. And let this account suffice about Exmas-cards.

They also send gifts to one another, suffering the same things about the gifts as about the cards, or even worse. For every citizen has to guess the value of the gift which every friend will send to him so that he may send one of equal value, whether he can afford it or not. And they buy as gifts for one another such things as no man ever bought for himself. For the sellers, understanding the custom, put forth all kinds of trumpery, and whatever, being useless and ridiculous, they have been unable to sell throughout the year they now sell as an Exmas gift. And though the Niatirbians profess themselves to lack sufficient necessary things, such as metal, leather, wood and paper, yet an incredible quantity of these things is wasted every year, being made into the gifts.

But during these fifty days the oldest, poorest, and most miserable of the citizens put on false beards and red robes and walk about the market-place; being disguised (in my opinion) as Cronos. And the sellers of gifts no less than the purchaser’s become pale and weary, because of the crowds and the fog, so that any man who came into a Niatirbian city at this season would think some great public calamity had fallen on Niatirb. This fifty days of preparation is called in their barbarian speech the Exmas Rush.

But when the day of the festival comes, then most of the citizens, being exhausted with the Rush, lie in bed till noon. But in the evening they eat five times as much supper as on other days and, crowning themselves with crowns of paper, they become intoxicated. And on the day after Exmas they are very grave, being internally disordered by the supper and the drinking and reckoning how much they have spent on gifts and on the wine. For wine is so dear among the Niatirbians that a man must swallow the worth of a talent before he is well intoxicated.

Such, then, are their customs about the Exmas. But the few among the Niatirbians have also a festival, separate and to themselves, called Crissmas, which is on the same day as Exmas. And those who keep Crissmas, doing the opposite to the majority of the Niatirbians, rise early on that day with shining faces and go before sunrise to certain temples where they partake of a sacred feast. And in most of the temples they set out images of a fair woman with a new-born Child on her knees and certain animals and shepherds adoring the Child. (The reason of these images is given in a certain sacred story which I know but do not repeat.)

But I myself conversed with a priest in one of these temples and asked him why they kept Crissmas on the same day as Exmas; for it appeared to me inconvenient. But the priest replied, “It is not lawful, O stranger, for us to change the date of Chrissmas, but would that Zeus would put it into the minds of the Niatirbians to keep Exmas at some other time or not to keep it at all. For Exmas and the Rush distract the minds even of the few from sacred things. And we indeed are glad that men should make merry at Crissmas; but in Exmas there is no merriment left.” And when I asked him why they endured the Rush, he replied, “It is, O Stranger, a racket”; using (as I suppose) the words of some oracle and speaking unintelligibly to me (for a racket is an instrument which the barbarians use in a game called tennis).

But what Hecataeus says, that Exmas and Crissmas are the same, is not credible. For first, the pictures which are stamped on the Exmas-cards have nothing to do with the sacred story which the priests tell about Crissmas. And secondly, the most part of the Niatirbians, not believing the religion of the few, nevertheless send the gifts and cards and participate in the Rush and drink, wearing paper caps. But it is not likely that men, even being barbarians, should suffer so many and great things in honour of a god they do not believe in. And now, enough about Niatirb.

Advent Hope and Fellowship

So let us enter Advent in hope, even hope against hope. Let us see visions of love and peace and justice. Let us affirm with humility, with joy, with faith, with courage: Jesus Christ – the life of the world.

And that is exactly what a group of people from the Easter Ross Inter-Church Group (ERICG) did yesterday afternoon, on a frosty day suitable for the first Sunday of Advent, as we gathered in St. Andrew’s Church, warming ourselves by the flickering flames from our candles.

Nearly 40 of us sang our hearts out, listened attentively (after all, it IS Advent!) to the readings, including the poem ‘Advent Credo’, from which the quotation above comes. As we held our candles aloft and listened to the introductory readings, we thought about how we can individually be, and bring, light, life, peace and hope, to others. The moving words of our opening hymn, ‘Longing for Light’ expressed our hopes:

Christ, be our light! Shine in our hearts. Shine through the darkness. Christ, be our light! Shine in your church gathered today.’

The bright lights of hospitality and fellowship then beckoned us into the welcome warmth of the hall, where an abundance of delicious sandwiches and home-baking (see above) encouraged lively chat and catch-up with our inter-church friends.

Thanks to everyone who read to us, sang with us and catered for us.

SEI December Newsletter

The Scottish Episcopal Institute, which is responsible for training priests, deacons and lay readers in our Church, produces a monthly newsletter.  If you are interested in what the Institute and its students have been up to, you can read all about it December 2018 Newsletter from SEI.

The image above comes from the SEI Christmas Card, together with this prayer:

Lord of the journey,
we ask your protection on all who have fled their homes.
Give them strength on their journeys;
grant that they may find places of compassion in which to rest;
and give us the grace to turn our hearts into welcoming inns this Christmas;
this we ask in the name of the One in whom we find our home,
Jesus Christ our Lord.

Diocesan News – December 2018

Bishop Mark writes…


My Dear Friends,

I am delighted that for the first time in a while we have a Diocesan What’s on Leaflet. lt is always so easy for the Charges and Congregations of the Diocese to lose track of what is going on and to miss opportunities to support each other by sharing and visiting each other’s events.

I am always surprised by just how busy you all are and it is good to be able to hold each event in my prayers, no matter how far from home I might be.

May I thank you all for the hard work and dedication you reveal in your service of God, it makes me proud to be Bishop of this Diocese. May I wish you all a joyous Christmas when it arrives. I hope to catch up with many of you in the year ahead.



St Andrew’s Night: a celebration

St Andrew’s marked their Patronal Festival on Friday in style.

It all started with a candlelit celebration of the Eucharist in Church. The service was followed by a splendid supper in the hall – lentil soup then haggis, neeps and tatties and finally shortbread tea and coffee.

And then the fun really started, with entertainment, including: a quiz, a sermon, song, music and general fun, games and prizes. All were encouraged to wear some tartan and that did produce some local colour and added to the atmosphere.

Other celebrations of St Andrew’s night were available across Scotland (and around the world, where finding a husband is a key theme!) with thousands of people celebrating far into the night. In fact, around the world there are probably more people gather to Mark St Andrew’s day/night than gather on the Feast days of any of the other apostles.

At the going down of the sun and in the morning

Very moving Services of Remembrance in St Andrew’s, St Finnbarr’s and at War Memorials in many of our towns, villages and communities (including: Ardgay, Bonar Bridge, Dornoch, Golspie, Lairg and Tain)  Very much capturing the spirit of marking the 100 Anniversary of the Armistice.


SEI November Newsletter


The Scottish Episcopal Institute, which is responsible for training priests, deacons and lay readers in our Church, produces a monthly newsletter.  If you are interested in what the Institute and its students (including Don Grant) have been up to, you can read all about it  SEI November 2018 Newsletter

This edition contains details and photos of all those who have been ordained Deacons and Priests or licensed as Lay Readers over the Summer and early Autumn, including no less than three from our Diocese: Ellie Charman, Megan Cambridge (both pictured above) and Clare Caley.