On the 22nd of November I posted a few hand-picked photos on Facebook, as clear evidence that Christmas feeling has yet again descended on Central London, enveloping the West End in its annual dreamy magic. The reaction I received was mostly positive, my phone takes really good photos after all, in fact it sometimes enhances reality with added vibrancy of colour and depth of perspective, in this case sprinkling everything even more generously with Christmas fairy dust.
Still, some people responded with a humbug, ‘What, Christmas lights already?’, to which my instinctive reply in turn was, if not now, then when?
Christmas season needs to last at least a month for its message to reach enough people, for all of it to sink in and for the effort to be worthwhile.
Christmas is a many-layered creature. First, there are the practicalities of it all.
It’s not only that enough people need to make it to John Lewis to buy this year mascot fronting the store’s Christmas advert, and to make sure they have enough Christmas-coordinated place mats. Amazon delivery times, so reliable for the rest of the year, can be treacherous at Christmas, so starting early has become a necessity. By end of November you might as well give up on some items, or order them for next year’s Christmas, if you are confident that your child will still be happy to receive those unicorn fairy lights they asked Santa for, in twelve months’ time.
Then there is the religion, the Mary’s boy child Jesus Christ approach to Christmas. If you are a devout church-going Christian, and Christmas is mainly a spiritual event for you, then chances are you celebrate the season within slightly different timeframes, but it is still a lengthy drawn-out affair, as it starts on the first day of December with the first day of Advent and ends on the sixth of January with Twelfth Night, aka Epiphany. This is the day on which, according to one school of thought, the Magi, aka Three Wise Men popped in to see Jesus. They missed out on the last of turkey sandwiches, but still brought Christmas presents for the Baby.
Traditionally, some practising Christians used to feel smug about Christmas, and acted as if they possessed exclusive rights to the season.
They don’t. In this day and age, everybody can get their very own piece of Christmas, it is all there for the taking; the carols, the lights, decorations, the cards and the non-drops, the Nutcracker at the ENO, the school fairs, It’s a Wonderful Life, Winter Wonderland, Somerset House ice rink, the South Bank market, panto at the Palladium, Ocado guaranteed Christmas delivery deadlines, Love Actually, the Crisis Christmas Appeal, Eastenders special, and this is just a small part of my personal Christmas to do list, and it doesn’t even include the goes-without-saying essentials involved in inviting close friends and family for a Christmas Day feast. Looking at it now, I am surprised I didn’t start going through that list before summer holidays.
Still, if Christmas is to make any sense whatsoever in today’s world, it needs to go beyond Amazon delivery times, John Lewis advert, and Biblical Baby’s birthday.
If Christmas is to be worth all the advertising budgets and the frustration of trying to disguise the shape of a guitar using a cheap 3 for 2 wrapping paper, it has to go further.
If done properly, Christmas takes time. Time to slow down, step back, reflect, and channel your inner post-visitations Scrooge. Time to look around and see who could really benefit from your fat goose this winter. Time to reach out and deliver that goose where it’s needed, time to make a difference. Everybody is different so making a difference will mean something different to everybody. It includes, but is not limited to, all the seasonal clichés. Invite lonely friends and neighbours for pre-Christmas drinks, offer to help at local homeless charity, adopt an unwanted post-Christmas puppy, drive an elderly lady from across the road to a carol concert, by all means buy that goat for an African village if that is your thing, or just genuinely make an effort to be an all-around nicer person, and who knows, you might like yourself better that way, and decide to keep it up even after you’ve boxed up all the tinsel for another year.
We are all very busy all the time. Slowing down takes skill these days. Christmas needs to be long enough to give us sufficient breaking time for the festive season to make a difference, otherwise we risk missing its point again. 22nd of November sounds like a perfect day to step on the brakes.
Merry Christmas, Everyone!