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Christmas at Occupy London

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It's cold and it's wet outside. That London drizzle, a phenomenon that lies somewhere between fog and sleet which London will suffer from nearly everyday until May has started to come down.

I'm in a queue of around 2000 people that has wrapped around St. Paul's for midnight mass, snaking through Occupy London's Tent City. I'm not a Christian, I left the church 15 years ago, but I've been feeling homesick lately and find myself here - cold, wet and sick.

We get inside and I'm struck by the sheer majesty of the place. Another occupier takes a seat near me. I doubt he's a Christian either. I don't think ether of us really know why we're here. Maybe we're looking for something.

A lot has been said about the role Jesus would play in the movement, with the Archbishop of Canterbury stating that Jesus would be with the protesters, "sharing the risks, not just taking sides" and the Rev. Jesse Jackson stating that Jesus was an occupier.

Sitting through the ancient mass in the incense filled chambers of St Paul's listening to the stories of Mary and Joseph and the innkeeper, I'm wondering how anyone could doubt them.

Mary and Joseph being turned away from the inn and sent to a stable is a perfect analogy of the relationship between the 99% and the 1%. The story of Christmas told from pulpits and through television specials is a simplified, inoffensive tale. The reality is messy, at times appalling to society and much more complicated.

Christmas celebrates the birth of a child to a pair of poor, young lovers. Mary was a recent student from the temple and Joseph was a working class carpenter. They gave birth to a child who would grow up to be the world's most prominent campaigner for peace, equality and economic justice. He did not speak only of love and forgiveness. He spoke most often of justice.

Jesus challenged the power of the religious and financial elite, while keeping company with the poor, the disenfranchised and the cast-aside. He utilised both non-violence and radical direct action, specifically towards bankers and sought to empower people to create a better world themselves. In the end, his words and actions had him put to death for being an enemy of the state, turned over by an informant bribed by church officials.

Later in the evening, as I ready for sleep, the complexities of the story and the similarities to the situation those camped outside St. Paul's find themselves in are not lost on me.

The following morning I'm making the rounds of the occupations being run by Occupy London.

The Bank of Ideas, a disused UBS owned building taken in a 'public repossession' over a month ago is busy in the kitchen, everyone throwing in to pull off a great vegan feast. Finsbury Square, the second encampment, is dancing in the cold to DJs and musicians with a camp fire for warmth and hot food being served.

Occupy Justice, a draft old building that served as the former Old Street Magistrates Court and taken last week by a local collective working with Occupy Veterans is held down on Christmas day by just a few occupiers, celebrating Christmas with some food brought by other occupiers and some gifts skipped by friends.

At St. Paul's people have gathered in the marquee that houses Tent City University. Supporters have brought turkeys and pheasants and home-cooked dishes. The Bishop of London has brought down chocolates and members of Radiohead have dropped off gifts. The feast is laid out and occupiers begin to gather for their Christmas meal. It's now that I feel the most homesick, missing my family the most, and the revelry with friends back home. Many organisers have stayed, putting off reunions with family to spend it here.

Arguments happen and a few people drink too much. It's messy, and to some appalling; a definite contradiction to the opulence and majesty inside St. Paul's. But in many ways it's more powerful.

After midnight mass and Christmas I'm no more a Christian than I was a day before, but the community I experienced at Bank of Ideas and Finsbury Square, the solidarity of a few huddled occupiers I witnessed at Occupy Justice, the mingling of the powerful and the (formerly) meek at St. Paul's and the message I heard at midnight have helped me experience the true meaning of Christmas for the first time.

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