GETTING IN THE SPIRIT

With the departure of October, November slowly girds its loins to once again suffer as “the month before December, December where all the fun stuff happens”. Thus I find myself sitting here typing with a building sense of dread. Why? Because I know that any day now I’m going to start hearing that miserable, droning dirge called Fairytale of New York. Would it surprise you if I revealed that I have little patience for Christmas? If so, you haven’t been here long, have you?

If you want to know exactly how I feel about modern Christmas, just picture a jolly fat man, clad in red, stamping a festive boot on my face. Forever. It definitely feels like forever by the tenth hearing of The Pogues in a day. It’s all just so wearying – at least Halloween has the good grace to just hang around for just one evening. Then again, thinking on it, I’m pretty sure some Fanta cans I bought in September bore pumpkins, and a week prior my favourite pub forgot to dust away a sudden rash of very thick cobwebs. However, Halloween is over and I don’t wish to dwell upon it. Back, then, to everyone’s favourite time of forced cheer.

It is a source of annual bafflement to me how much everyone loves and cares about this holiday. I mean, I’d get it if everyone just came out and said that they were looking forward to all the free days off they get in December, but it’s not. They seem to love the god-awful pageantry, the gaudy lights in the town centre, the tacky decorations in every shop from here to Nazareth and the ceaseless, terrible, soul-destroying music. The worst part of Christmas is definitely the music. How can anyone like the cheap, cash-in tracks that get spun out again and again, year after year?

If I had my way, Christmas would last two days. Decorations would go up on Christmas Eve, everyone would stay home with their families until Christmas Day rolled around. Then on the day itself people can do the gift-giving, big dinner thing if they want and watch that most famous of Christmas films Die Hard, superb for the fact that it has basically nothing to do with Christmas. I like that we have a holiday geared towards spending time with the family, but then I like my family and I know for a fact that not everybody does. It helps that my family don’t chastise me for “not being in the Christmas spirit” every time a smile dares to flicker off my face or I tell them that I’m not wearing the stupid paper cracker hat.

The true tragedy of it all, though, is that Christmas is an empty holiday. In fact, I’m pretty sure the only reason we still celebrate it is that it’s a phenomenally successful marketing vehicle, that and stubborn pig-headed tradition. You must have heard it all before, but allow me to reiterate: Christmas is a Christian celebration of the coming of Jesus, it’s right there in the name Christ-Mass, the mass of Christ, and most of the integral traditions we associate slowly cropped up over time. Go and browse Wikipedia if you’re interested in the specifics. Christmas is even celebrated in some countries where Christians are a small minority, just adopting some of the secular traditions. Christmas once had a meaning to us, but now it’s just a hollow ritual we trudge through every year and pretend to enjoy. Okay, I pretend to enjoy it (not very hard I’ll admit), most people seem to enjoy it in truth.

This isn’t limited to Christmas. Halloween and Easter are good examples too. The resurrection means little to a primarily secular culture and Easter is full of pagan fertility symbolism anyway. Then Halloween, if you remove the abbreviations, is All Hallow’s Eve. Now tell me, when was the last time you thought of All Hallows, the feast of All Saints’ Day on 1st November? Did you even know that it was a thing? No, Halloween is now a reason for small kids to harass their neighbours and university students to get drunk in silly costumes, and even then I’m sure that’s a recent trend. These festivals don’t mean anything. We have the rituals, traditions and celebrations, but no substance to give them any real meaning.

Now there are, in fact, festivals that we celebrate that do have cultural meaning and significance. The Americans do this best with 4th July, Independence Day. Independence Day holds great significance to Americans – it was literally the birth of their nation and it represents their national values, freedom, individuality and personal rights (also eating a lot and explosions if you’re being facetious like me). Across the Channel from me, in France, they have Bastille Day, again a celebration of national culture derived from a significant event in the French Revolution. A culturally meaningful celebration.

Bastille Day
Bastille Day

In the UK, we do also have one day that springs to mind. A day with deep cultural significance, ritual and meaning. I speak of Remembrance Sunday. Little has had as much of an impact on the modern Western world as the wars of the 20th century. The scale and brutality of these wars is hardly a cause for celebration, but nevertheless it is just as much a holiday, in the traditional sense, as Christmas or Easter, if a sombre one. If anything, I’d say Remembrance Sunday is far more worthy of being a national holiday than any of the old religious festivals, although I imagine I’ll have a hard time convincing anyone to swap a novelty Santa hat for a Poppy.

I suppose I’m asking for quite the societal shift by suggesting that we stop celebrating our most beloved holidays in favour of ones we don’t even have. The last celebration of being British we had was Empire Day which hardly seems appropriate, and even then I’m not sure I want a holiday celebrating being British, once again it doesn’t really fit. I’m not going to waste your time by sitting here bandying about idle musings for what would be better than Christmas. I’ll just leave you with the idea that maybe it would be better if, rather than celebrating the supposed birthday of a supposed prophet most of us don’t care about on December 25th, we acknowledged what we were actually celebrating by listening to that bloody Pogues song for the hundred millionth time. What we’re really celebrating is that another year has slipped on by and the people we love and care for are still the people we love and care for. I for one would find that far less tedious.

WORDS: JAMES ARNOLD

Liked this article? Here’s what James has to say about book to film adaptation.

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