by Lorenzo Bernasconi

Even with the specter of rising infections and the shadow of new restrictions, Christmas this year has passed, for most Italians, in a relatively quiet way. If, however, we can not yet speak of an effective return to normality, what the pandemic has not changed one iota is the now usual (and a bit 'depressing) spectacle offered by Italian politics, apparently unable to resist the temptation to turn Christmas and its symbols in as many tools of electoral campaign.

"Is the crib left or right?"

Also this year, in fact, on the left we have seen a flourishing of migrant-themed nativity scenes and a flood of slogans such as “ Jesus was also a refugee! ", even bothering the baby for justify the actions of Mimmo Lucano , recently convicted of criminal association, fraud and embezzlement in reference to conduct unlawful acts perpetrated by abusing the office of mayor which, at the time of the disputed facts, he held in the Calabrian village of Riace.

On the right, on the other hand, there was an anthology of nativity scenes, photographed, shared, invoked as a national-popular and identity symbol, but also as a bulwark of the values of the traditional family, opposed to the liquid precariousness of human relationships typical of our time ( however, an unfortunate choice, in my opinion, since Joseph, who was Jesus' stepfather and not father, married a woman pregnant with a child who was not his: it was not the son of God, it would be a good story to epater les bourgeois! épater le bourgeois!).

The politicization of a religious symbol just as society becomes irreligious

We find ourselves, apparently, in front of a paradoxical scenario: according to a research commissioned by the same CEI, only 22% of Italians habitually attends Sunday Mass and only 28.6% say they are firmly convinced of the existence of life after death; numbers in sharp decline compared to the data of 25 years ago (when the last comparable survey was conducted), which show a strong phenomenon of secularization of society.

Nevertheless - or perhaps precisely because of this - today more than ever political forces compete to grab the symbol of Christmas par excellence, declining and distorting it in a way that is functional to their worldview, and enlisting in essence the newborn Jesus to their own, very earthly cause.

When the meaning of the crib was still transcendent

On closer inspection, however, the paradox is such only if one considers the phenomenon from a purely statistical-quantitative perspective. If, on the other hand, one looks at the question from a semiotic point of view, one cannot fail to notice how much, until a few decades ago, the crib lived, as a symbol, in a very close relationship with a metaphysical and purely religious meaning, nourished by a personal faith that often found occasion for reconfirmation and reinforcement in the social and collective dimensions; this, obviously, precluded any possibility of attributing different and less spiritual meanings to the symbol itself.

The crib, symbol of the Event par excellence, could not host secondary messages of a political or social nature, however worthy and urgent, because the sacredness of the meaning to which it referred was such as to raise the representation of the Nativity above the miseries of the world, enclosing it in an aura of sanctity impenetrable to the affairs of this earth.

Either Christmas is above it all, or it is not

Today, however, the process of progressive de-Christianization has emptied, in the eyes of many, Christmas and its rites of their original meaning. Nevertheless, they remain, on a symbolic level, incredibly powerful, because they are rooted in the childhood memories of each of us and in the national culture: nothing surprising, then, if many have tried to seize the opportunity to fill them with new meanings, whether it be welcome and anti-racism rather than the defense of local traditions and lifestyles.

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On this point, however, paraphrasing Don Giussani, I believe it is necessary to reiterate how there cannot be a Christmas that does not place Jesus, and Jesus alone, at its center. Either Christ was the son of God - and then it is blasphemy to profane his birth for earthly purposes, no matter how noble they may be - or he was not, and the whole structure of Christianity is just a colossal lie.

Whatever the truth may be, Christmas -with all its symbols and rituals- cannot be reduced to a trivial celebration of solidarity or a tradition to be preserved like the Palio of Siena; either it is the turning point of history, or it is nothing.

The need to bend it to earthly ends appears to be the symptom of a politics which, now devoid of ideology, is incapable of giving reasons for its choices by framing them within an overall vision, which tends to be coherent, of the world and society.

Politics leave the crib alone and go back to talking about politics

If the left believes that we should welcome anyone who lands on European soil, it would be legitimate to expect a detailed and rational explanation of the model of integration that they would like to implement, with a detailed examination of employment prospects for locals and immigrants over the next thirty years, and perhaps clear proposals on how to distribute public resources (which, as we now know, are not unlimited) to meet the needs of both categories. At the moment, instead, we only hear endless appeals to the emotionality and good heart of the people, often accompanied by shock images.

If, on the right, we are told that we must defend the traditions and the way of life of our continent, we should expect an articulate and far-sighted proposal about the model of society that we want to build (since preserving everything that exists is, as history teaches us, obviously impossible); the absence of such a proposal can hardly be compensated by a continuous and hammering celebration of everything that has a vague aftertaste of tradition.

It would be more than desirable, in my humble opinion, for politics to give a sign of maturity by leaving Christmas and what revolves around it to the sphere to which by its nature it belongs: that of intimacy, of the sacred, of the personal relationship with God and neighbor. Our ruling class already has enough to deal with in this world: tell us what it intends to do to improve it, to heal its distortions, instead of caring about our relationship with the afterlife.

Where - always assuming it exists - hopefully it will not be the elections, nor the polls, to decide our fates.

Lorenzo Bernasconi

He graduated in Philosophy at the Catholic University of Milan, where he collaborated with the chair of History of Ancient Philosophy. He spent six years in Brussels working for the European Parliament. Returning to Italy in 2018, he served at the Presidency of the Council of Ministers and, later, as a consultant at the Chamber of Deputies.