The Christmas Conundrum ~ what is the spirit of the season?
Every year it sneaks up on me and every year I am unprepared and become anxious and then grumpy. Yes, Christmas.
I struggle with Christmas these days. I struggle with balancing my own views with those of the society around me. I struggle to avoid being a nasty grumpy, Grinchey old killjoy who hates pretty much everything about Christmas. I struggle to keep quiet about my views because in the end, they’re just my views and everyone else is as entitled to theirs.
But I don’t hate Christmas. I do hate what it seems to have become, in our current society. I’m not even going to go into the faith-based ideas about Christmas, because when it comes right down to it, actually most theologians would pour cold water on most of the so-called facts of the Christmas story. It doesn’t stop it being a beautiful story, though, or stop me from believing in it even though I know that the events almost certainly did not happen as the tale tells.
At the moment, I see and hear on a daily basis what people are doing and planning and buying for Christmas, and I also notice the increasing levels of stress and worry that accompany all these preparations, and it worries me. We’ve all hear of the traditional blazing rows at the dinner table on Christmas Day and all the accompanying nastiness.
The following short extract is from Terry Pratchett’s Hogfather:
“The wassailers stopped and watched them in horror.
Neither party noticed, as the beggars oozed and ambled up the street, that little smears of black and grey were spiralling out of drains and squeezing out from under tiles and buzzing off into the night. People have always had the urge to sing and clang things at the dark stub of the year, when all sorts of psychic nastiness has taken advantage of the long grey days and the deep shadows to lurk and breed. Lately people had taken to singing harmoniously, which rather lost the effect. Those who really understood just clanged something and shouted.”
For those who are psychically inclined, there is great truth in this. It’s one reason why for thousands of years in the cold Northern countries (I cannot speak for warmer ones) a festival has always taken place in the midpoint of the year, when the winter has begun to bite, but when the sun has begun its slow climb again. Humankind needs a midwinter festival to get them through the darkest of days that are coming, and whether this is Saturnalia, Yule, the Natalis Invicta , Christmas or whatever, it’s something of a psychological necessity. We need the hope and the light of gathering together against the dark and the cold.
Apart from the odd sulk over washing dishes, I don’t think we’ve ever had a Christmas day row in my home. But I also think I know why. It’s all about expectations. Let me tell you a story. Are you sitting comfortably? Then I shall begin.
The first Christmas we spent in Darkest Norfolk was probably one of the best Christmases we’ve ever had. We had friends come and visit, bringing partners, children and assorted hangers-on, to such an extent that I think virtually every item of bedlinen got used, and people were kipping on couches and pretty much anywhere there was space. There was food and drink and music and laughter; the living room stove was made up each morning and was kept stoked and used for roasting chestnuts and toasting marshmallows and warming ale until the last of us crawled to bed at 3am or later. People turned up, with other people, and the house was full to bursting. All the guests got on with each other and tasks like cooking and washing up were done communally and with a lot of giggles and joking. Scented candles were lit at dusk, and the house was an oasis of fellowship and love. It was agreed by everyone it had been a totally magical time, and we’d do it again next year.
Big mistake. We had more or less the same cast of characters, and the same food and drink and music….but a year had gone by, life had happened to folks and the magic was gone. Two friends managed to have one of those rows that never blaze up but become acidic and nasty within half an hour of arriving; it took another 5 or 6 years before they were on good terms again. Everything was the same, externally, but the whole thing was flat and rather lifeless.
We’d tried to recreate the magical atmosphere by assembling the same ingredients, the same components, but this doesn’t work. Think of the money and effort and thought that is spent on a great number of weddings, to recreate a fairytale wedding for the photographs. My husband has seen weddings where the marriage failed within three months; some even failed by the reception. Seriously, I do not jest; the bride used the honeymoon to go on holiday with her mother.
You cannot make Christmas by buying every “essential” item, or by eating or drinking certain things, or by attending carols services or Christmas parties. In fact, you cannot make Christmas at all. Because Christmas exists beyond all the external manifestations we think ARE Christmas.
Christmas is about love. Love. Not tinsel or presents or mince pies or films or music or anything that you can hold in your hand or look at. It’s intangible and elusive; if you try to grab it, it vanishes. And yet, a home that is filled with love will be filled with Christmas throughout the entire year…..and probably little will change for the month of December. That’s the spirit of the season, and it lasts all year in the hearts of those who are filled with love.