Well, it’s that time of year again. You know, the one when churchgoers accuse everyone else of trying to cancel Christmas. Before they can do this, they need a weak excuse, which varies from supermarkets selling the wrong kind of Christmas card to nativity plays and scenes allegedly being “banned” by local authorities.
Last year the local flashpoint was a particularly large and gruesome set of nativity figures (more like gargoyles) set out in the lobby of the local hospital.
The figures themselves have quite a funny history. Originally they were built for a local church, where they were displayed for a Christmas or two before parents, quite rightly, complained that some of them (I believe Joseph and Mary were the major culprits) were so ugly that children ran away screaming and couldn’t be enticed to look in the crib at the main attraction. So, they were stored away and forgotten about until the priest retired and was replaced by a younger, more belligerent, model.
The new guy fell over them one day while looking for incense, communion wine… Jesus Crackers …. choirboys…… something like that anyway. He set them up in the church, at which point he was not only told by parents why they’d been banished in the first place but also discovered that, while stored away, they’d got damp and were now beginning to rot. A coat of varnish couldn’t hide the smell, and certainly didn’t make Joe and Mary look any less like Quasimodo and the Gorgon.
What to do? Is it sacrilegious to burn knackered nativity figures? I don’t suppose they prepare you for such dilemmas in the seminary.
His inspired answer was to “donate” them to the hospital, where, for the first Christmas, they were installed in the hospital chapel. Apart from the whiff, the main complaint was not their plug-ugliness but their sheer size and inconvenience. The Muslim staff who are the chapel’s only daily worshippers (they use a chapel side-room) couldn’t squeeze past them. Nobody else would have noticed them, because even half the staff don’t know the chapel exists.
But the donating priest had other complaints, which he got his parishioners to express. Namely, why was their generous “gift” hidden away in a room specifically built for a (non-existent) hospital Christian community instead of installed in a prominent public place where it could inconvenience and scare the Bejesus out of the general public?
So last year it was (in the process blocking the main entrance to the hospital and hiding all the direction boards frantic relatives look for as they rush through the door), and both staff and public duly complained. The sensible management response to this might have been to put the monsters somewhere less intrusive, but the Manx NHS does not have sensible management.
So, this year, the whole freak show was wheeled out in the same place. In addition, the whole display is cased in a purpose-built box. Officially, this is to “protect” the gargoyles without obscuring the direction boards. Not so. I suspect it is actually to protect the surrounding walls from mould, and to contain the stink. Because if the spores from these things spread to even one ward, there would be an outbreak of emphysema.
Quite hilarious to think that some hospitals ban smoking – not only indoors but even in car parks – while being complicit in the introduction of other health hazards, simply in order to keep a handful of religious zealots quiet.