Saturday, 15 November 2008

Wanting to invite Father Christmas in for mulled wine

Yes - it is nearly sacrilegious - here is someone totally steeped in liturgical studies (and who sadly will talk on the subject endlessly, especially when I've had a toddy or mulled wine), who is already indulging her Christmas obsession when it is not yet even Advent. Shocking, indeed. But I loathe winter (yes, I know winter is more than a month off as well... but that's one dreadful season that always seems nine months long), and, once the days grow short and I need to sponge and press the heavy coat, I immediately need to dose myself with Christmas cheer of some kind.

This, I am sad to relate, is a difficult task for my generation, who went from being quite 'cool' ( know I don't mean chilly) in young adulthood, to being the worst crop of frumps since the Puritans. Oh, it isn't that they, like the Puritans, consider Christmas to be wicked - they only think it's 'just for children,' as if the little brats would have the slightest concept of the Incarnation. Still, considering that I emerged from excessive Franciscan austerity c. 1993 (I had so feared compromising poverty that I steered into deprivation for two decades), reclaiming my laughing Mediterranean heritage to the full, I had never expected that, just around that date, those in my age group would emerge as prudish sorts who think that everything that makes one smile is somehow a danger to the children - or that it now would be (at least unofficially) illegal to eat (ah, cholesterol!), drink (anything but water), smoke (yes... the secret is out... I did, and I do, and I am not looking for your 'help' in giving it up), or otherwise indulge in any form of recreation except going to a gym. (Games that once might have taken place in gyms, which then were recreation centres, even cease to be fun when one is wearing a monitor and has to have this on the daily calendar as a 'fitness programme.') Just when I was ready to have fun, everyone I knew settled in for a gloomy stress on "health" (translation: obsession with illness and death, and deadly fear of doing the wrong thing and ending up dead some day... which I'd heard was inevitable in any case...)

Well, back to my Christmas fixation. :) Today, eager for diversion, I re-read a superb book entitled "Dickens' Christmas," by Simon Callow. Though it contains much background about Dickens, it also has a fascinating section which traces Christmas customs right back to the beginning, even to the pagan origins. I'll take a healthy helping of it all: Saturn, Pan, the Sol Invictus (remember him? Constantine had a most fortunate connection there...), boy bishops of the Middle Ages, wassail bowls, pageants with Father Christmas (who was not so sanitised before Christmas became 'only for children'), carols reverent and sly - the lot. Here is a quotation which Roderick Marshall reconstructed from the old Mummers' plays.

Welcome or welcome not
I hope old Father Christmas will never be forgot.
Christmas comes but once a year
And when it comes, it brings good cheer.
Roast beef, plum pudding, strong ale, and mince pie.
Who likes that better than I?
I am here to laugh and cheer
And all I ask is a pocketful of money
And a cellar full of beer.
Now I have brought some gallant men with me
That will show you great activity.
Activity of youth, activity of age,
Was never such acting
Shown upon Christian stage...

Yes, puritanical streak crowd, move over. My own focus, of course, is strongly religious - Advent and eschatology, the Incarnation and so forth. (With the current economic Depression, I know that no one has a pocketful of money - but the sort of roast beef I can afford isn't all that bad when it's marinated and served rare.) I don't think we should be sent on 'guilt trips' over enjoying ourselves! I shall admit that I'm not all that partial to beer, but, when I do make my annual purchase of cheap wine to mix with cinnamon and such, I absolutely refuse to beat my breast because I didn't give the money to the poor children.

I love it all - presents, food and drink, decorations, the little tree with its collection of ornaments (which I acquired over 35 years) that is my pride and joy, my Christmas CDs which are everything from medieval to Victorian to rot such as "The Little Drummer Boy" and "Do You Hear What I Hear?" which somehow become irresistible in the shadow of Christmas lights.

My collection of Christmas books is wide, and I have one long out-of-print book (Lord knows how I came by this in the first place) entitled "Merry Christmas, Mr Baxter." George Baxter is a man of substantial means, and 'his' story has value for me only in that it helps me understand others of his ilk whom I meet here and there. His view of Christmas is dismal: not a single religious element, grown children who won't even set a place for their own parents at table because it's too much work now that they grew modern and stopped having servants, no more provision (from his very ample income) for the unfortunate than Scrooge would have made before his ghostly visitors arrived. Yet I could vaguely grasp, without understanding per se, an attitude which somehow explains the "Christmas is for children" crowd a bit.

I could understand George's pining for childhood Christmases if the reason were that his well off children are selfish shits - no hint of that in his thought. No - he has everything he needs and more, and can afford everything he wants, and he sees presents (which I would think of as ways to show love and caring for those whom we love) as a burden. Oh, he has things of which he still dreams: a Jaguar, private plain, country home - but those won't be in his stocking and, though he can afford them, deep down he knows they'd be more a burden than pleasure. But he is nostalgic for the Christmas of childhood because it's the only time in his memory when one could hope for, and receive, a present for which one pines (pun intended, however dreadful.)

I, of course, always was one of the 95% of the population who did not have everything we wanted, nor everything we needed. Mr Baxter appeared in 1954 - today, his counterpart would be a miserable 'old' man (he's in his 50s - but my generation are 'older' than people of 90 used to be), who shrugged off presents with "they should have given the money to charity where at least it did good." (The ones who say this, by the way, are the same ones who resent that poor mothers get free inoculations for their children.) He'd probably be dragging his grandchildren to a homeless shelter on Christmas Day (and I say this though I cooked in them for at least 7 Christmases) - not to make them love the poor, but to make them feel guilty about what they have and fall down in adulation, not of the Saviour, but of their wonderful parents who provide everything.

I wish I could have a Christmas party... but my flat is not 'smoke free,' my food, however modest, not vegetarian - and I can't think of anyone I know who would ride out to zone 4... Not to mention that the Christmas cards, which I send as both a blessing and sharing of joy or gratitude, will be greeted with either 'but we're stopping...' or 'you shouldn't have spent the postage...'

If my readers are surprised by my cynicism (forgetting that is the natural outcome of being a burnt idealist and romantic), be assured that it was reinforced when I did a Google search for Christmas goodies. Among the 'heartening' images with which I was presented were (1) those of Santa Claus urging low fat diets (apparently he is no longer able to be of ample girth, what with the dangers of the obesity epidemic), (2) a children's site, with an FAQ about Santa Claus, responding to the little ones' questions about such matters as whether he was lactose intolerant, (3) a message board, on which disheartened young people (who seemed to think it might be fun to play at being mentally ill... maybe they'll play at having cancer or kidney disease next week) wrote of losing faith in their parents and/or Christianity by learning that the legends about Santa Claus are not literally true (adjective mine - I believe in Santa Claus all the more because certain traits are more valuable when figurative, but then my definition of 'myth' differs from that in the vernacular), (4) television blurbs which show that those with the digital boxes can have such 'great Christmas treats' as new films about dysfunctional families of Santa Claus and about who went into a coma on Christmas Eve.

...I don't think mulled wine is going to be strong enough to get me through this... or even a gin toddy...

No comments: