And now at last it’s time for my yearly Christmas rant. (It’s actually a barely-disguised rehash of last year’s spleen-vent from my previous blog Colourless Green Dreams, but hey, this is Christmas so it’s the perfect time for annoying re-runs.)
I love Christmas and I hate it. I look forward to it and dread it in almost equal measure.
On the one side is the utter insanity of the crass commercialism starting about mid-July, with all the attendant tide of tasteless tinselly tat, dancing snowmen and singing reindeer. There’s the annual ear-torture of Christmas singles and ceaseless repetitions of Slade, George Michael and Chris de Burgh; the hideous ‘Christmas specials’, the family films about elves, and X-list celebs appearing in pointless and puerile pantos in a hopeless bid to revive their careers.
And then there’s the needless nightmare of Christmas shopping; the pressures of present-buying for people who don’t need anything and card-writing for people who you ceased to have any proper contact with years ago. And finally there’s all the endless enforced jollity and socialising with people you wouldn’t normally so much as pass the time of day with. (NB – no reference of course to my own relatives and in-laws, who are all extremely lovely and who I still want to be on speaking terms with, especially if they’re planning to buy me presents. :-))
Put all this together and just for once I’m tempted to support my arch-nemesis Ollie Cromwell in banning the whole sorry business for good (except perhaps the mince pies and Christmas pud). If all this was all there were to Christmas, I’d hate it with a venomous passion and join with Scrooge in a hearty chorus of ‘Bah humbug!’; I’d be glad if the Grinch truly had stolen Christmas and never brought it back. For all this isn’t Christmas; for want of a better word let’s call it X-mas – to paraphrase poet Gordon Bailey, X for a wrong answer; X for something messed up and crossed out; X for a meaningless kiss; X for the ‘ex’ of something that used to be but is no longer, like an ex-girlfriend.
The light shines in the darkness
And yet… there is another side which all the tide of tat, Slade, commercialism and false jollity can never quite drown out, though it often tries its hardest. I just can’t deny that buried under it all and gleaming through the gaps there is a genuine magic to Christmas, something of true wonder and beauty. It is the wonder of a lone star in a night of unrelenting midwinter dark; the beauty of a lone voice singing an ancient and lovely carol amid the brassy blare of Xmas noise.
True Christmas is an unexpected light in the blackest darkness; an unlooked-for hope amid the deepest despair; a sign of life and truth in the most unlikely and unlooked-for place. It is a child born in poverty and obscurity to bring new life and light to the world; it is a song sung not by Slade but by angels, and heard not by frustrated shoppers but by frightened shepherds in a forgotten backwater. “The people that walk in darkness have seen a great light… the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
(I don’t, by the way, object to fairy lights and Father Christmas, which have the magic of myth and childhood and expectancy, and like all good myth have roots in something of truth and beauty.)
It’s no coincidence that both some of the best and worst, happiest and most difficult times of my own life have been around Christmas. Eighteen years ago I suffered a severe breakdown at Christmas, and yet on the back of that I found faith, new purpose and a new life; and three years later at Christmas I got engaged to the lovely and long-suffering person who for some reason consented to share a life with me.
I hate Xmas because I love Christmas. Bah humbug to Xmas; Merry Christmas one and all.