‘Tis the Season
It’s December and for me that means only one thing: it’s Christmas. That’s just how it works. Yes, I know it’s actually Advent, and Christmas only begins on Christmas Day. But I don’t care. I’m not a Christian, and, to me, Christmas is no more about Christ than Thursday is about Thor. Christmas is about mince pies, hot alcoholic drinks, blinking lights, sentimental films, TV specials, time off work, songs, presents and family. And I love it.
But why? I’m a somewhat curmudgeonly atheist, not generally given to joining in with forced displays of jollity or sentimentalism. I usually watch what I eat and drink (well, I try to anyway). I’m, at best, indifferent to Cliff Richard. And I’m largely opposed to crass consumerism.
But Christmas is different. It’s a time for rule-breaking. Sure, I don’t normally have Baileys in my coffee – I don’t normally even drink coffee, but it’s Christmas, so it’s allowed. Mince pies for breakfast? Why not, it’s Christmas!
And there’s the nostalgia. It’s not nostalgia for my childhood. I was raised as a Jehovah’s Witness so I grew up without Christmas. (Cue violins.) Perhaps it’s nostalgia for a childhood I wish I had. A rose-tinted parallel universe where getting up on Christmas morning would mean presents and not a couple of hours of door-to-door preaching (yes, really!). Despite my unorthodox upbringing, my childhood Christmases still have some good memories. The Late Late Toy Show. The bumper edition of the RTÉ Guide (the only time of year my mother bought it), and the wealth of festive television and film premieres that it promised. The few presents that sneaked through from relatives or family friends, that were occasionally something other than socks. The regular getting together on Christmas Day and not celebrating Christmas with other Jehovah’s Witnesses, (sometimes including a turkey dinner, Christmas pudding and charades). Going back to school in January and finding out what everyone got for Christmas (OK, that one wasn’t so much fun.)
And of course Christmas comes with its own prepackaged nostalgia, with equal measures of Victorian and baby-boomer ideals; a world of simpler times and forgotten values: all feasts, family and fun; layers of traditions, tropes and truisms churned over and renewed every December. Every Christmas film is the story of someone learning an important lesson and good triumphing over evil. No matter what, Christmas prevails. The miser becomes a philanthropist, the presents are delivered, the family is reunited, the town is saved. The good is found in every person and every situation. These are positive values to embrace, and Christmas is awash with them.
Now that I have a family, I find that traditions are important. If you don’t come with traditions, you learn to make your own, or they develop along the way. Buying a tree that’s probably too big for our living-room, and somehow getting it home and installed. Decorating it with our eclectic and growing set of decorations, many of which have their own stories. Feeling smug that the lights are still working and not tangled. Choosing which version of A Christmas Carol to watch. Giggling inappropriately at the ‘dramatic’ scenes in EastEnders and being sternly hushed by my sisters as they wait with bated breath for the seasonal killing off of an Albert Square resident. And now, more than anything, watching my son – and his cousins – opening presents on Christmas morning. I have developed a sort of anticipatory nostalgia for the future, for Christmas yet to come, for the milestones in my son’s life, marked in some way by whatever’s in the boxes under the tree.
Each Christmas marks a passing of the years; a point of certainty in an uncertain world; a time for redemption and improvement; a belief that, like in all those Christmas films, everything will work out right. So find whatever it is you have – or want – to celebrate. Call it whatever you want. Pick the traditions and values that work for you and discard those that don’t. And most of all, celebrate the light in a time of darkness.
Merry Christmas to one and all.