Sunday, 26 December 2010

The only thing merrily ringing out are the shop tills

Why is it that I can get irritated by how Christmas is regarded as just another ‘business opportunity’ by manufacturers and our shops, and as an excuse for a consumerist orgy by everyone else and his dog, yet consider the story behind Christmas - the birth of a chap called Jesus - as just so much claptrap? It puzzles me. I should say, here and now, that if someone has a faith, whether they call themselves Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist or even Devil worshippers, I leave them to it, because with one or two irritating exceptions (ever been smugly told by someone or other ‘I’m a Christian’ with the implication being ‘I’m better than you because you don’t share the faith’? I have, rather more than once) I consider those who have a faith to be rather luckier in many ways than those who don’t and studies have shown that, in general, they enjoy better health than the faithless - I should say ‘studies are said to show’ as I can’t find any examples off-hand), but I believe it is ‘having a faith’ which does the trick rather than the specific faith. (Incidentally, six years ago, a British sailor insisted on his right as a Devil worshipper to while onboard a Royal Navy frigate on got his way. For further accounts try here and here.)
Were anyone to ask me whether I believed in God, I would honestly reply that I did, but I would leave it there and excuse myself from any subsequent discussion. As for Christianity and Roman Catholicism, well, we went our separate ways years ago, and I somehow doubt we shall ever be re-united. But there is no denying that celebrating Christmas was initially based on the Christian religious festival which marked the anniversary of the birth of the chap Christians believe to be the son of God, though you’d be hard pushed to be reminded of that in Britain at least (officially utterly godless). I know Christmas in Germany is rather more of a religious festival, and I suspect the same is true of the U.S. where a far greater proportion of its citizens attend church every Sunday. But even in those two countries the overarching imperative is to buy, buy, buy and bugger the consequences. But why, given my views on Christianity, do I find that so offensive.
I really can’t tell you. I was, admittedly, brought up a church-going RC (and wanted to be ‘a priest’ until puberty came and I discovered ‘girls’. I remember often sitting in church, spotting a rather pretty girl, imagining her naked, immediately praying to God to forgive me, but even while I was praying, doing a little more imaging, so praying even harder - the whole thing is just thoroughly ridiculous) and for us Christmas was more a religious festival than for others. So perhaps echoes of that upbringing are the basis for my irritation. But irritated I most certainly am. The whole shooting match of Christmas advertising starts in mid-October, which spoils the whole run-up and when you come across Christmas puddings on sale at that time, you do wonder what the bloody hell is going on. Oh, well. I don’t for a moment imagine this is a new phenomenon. I think historians and archaeologist have long established that greed is millennia old. Certainly, the Victorians were pretty acquisitive, especially at Christmas. Just look at Charles Dickens’s novella Scrooge. (Great name, by the way.)

. . .

Christmas Day went off rather well in the Powell household. As I said, the extra money I have been earning putting together the Mails’ puzzle pages allowed my to push the boat out a little this year, so Wes got his Xbox and Elsie a - titchy - iPod Nano. Lord is it small, but she is happy with it. I went round to my stepmother’s to cook her lunch (she had fillet steak with chips and salad) and later we went up to see my father-in-law who chose to spend Christmas on his own. He is now a widower, although I can’t remember whether my mother-in-law died one year or two years ago. My wife’s family are rather an emotionally stunted bunch (my wife’s grandfather was something of a Methodist religious fanatic who would even allow alcohol in the house and who lived until he was 96 in his son’s household, which couldn’t have been easy for his son. It’s pretty much the case that mean don’t really come into their own until their fathers die - it was most certainly true in my case), so I stayed on for an hour after everyone else had left and he seemed to relax a little bit. Poor chap, he does miss his wife a great deal and doesn’t enjoy being on his own.
We didn’t stuff ourselves or fall over drunk, so in that sense it wasn’t a traditional British Christmas, although Elsie did make a point of watching the hour-long EastEnders Christmas special, which, as usual, was full of loads of shouting, crying, tears, unhappiness, recrimination, accusations and I don’t know what else. Why do people enjoy such garbage? I know I have admitted that The Wire, The Sopranos and Mad Men are soaps by another name, but none is filled with the unremitting misery which is fucking EastEnders. I just hope Elsie doesn’t grow up thinking that kind of lifestyle is normal or even usual.

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