Christmastime Reflections

This year the Christmas tree was fat and capacious. It was unlike anything we’d seen before. Perhaps it was a bit like the trees you used to see on animated Christmas specials – I’m particularly thinking of a Yogi Bear Christmas special, where of course there was some kind of adventure, but the details escape me although they may have sung Deck The Halls at one point, and really it doesn’t matter, for it was a Christmas-themed show and I liked all Christmas-themed shows.

I used to harbour the ambition of compiling a list of all movies which feature Christmas, however tangentially, as it seemed important to me at one point. In fact, it still seems important. Quite important. Not very important. The Terry Gilliam film Brazil starts on Christmas Eve and I believe it’s Christmastime in one of the Die Hard films and the Eddie Murphy film Trading Places takes place over the Christmas-New Year period. These aren’t Christmas films – anyone can compile a list of Christmas films – they often have the word Christmas in the title, and I was interested in these films too. There may have been a plan to possess a whole trove of Christmas-related material: obvious and less-obvious films and the Christmas specials which most TV shows have (reminds me of an episode of The Sopranos when the usual mobster was unavailable to play Santa for the local children and so a different man put on the suit and did a bad job, losing control of the situation and accusing a little boy of not being very good at all, and the little boy said: “Hey, fuck you Santa!” It made me laugh – and that would have gone into the pile of Christmas stuff).

Recently, we have been watching Christmas episodes from Frasier and The Office (the American version, which we finally forced ourselves to sample, and have to admit is a good show, although not as subtle and clever and brilliant as the original (of course). When I was a smaller person I had informal rules about this sort of thing, and Christmas was basically over by Boxing Day. Certainly watching something Christmas-related after this time was an empty experience, I decided, and thus avoided doing it if I could. Better to get on with it and not make yourself sad, I thought. But now the rules are more relaxed and the emptiness is gone (or it is lessened) and I have made a conscious effort in other ways too to think of the season as a full season, which lasts right through to Twelfth Night.

But back to the tree. When we bought it it seemed OK, not unmanageably tall, and we’d discussed not getting something too big for the space we have, especially as the room we use now has more book shelves and other furniture and being crammed we weren’t sure how it would all fit together in the available space. The man at the tree place suggested it and we said yes. We never say yes to the first one but we did this time. We were aware that they are often taller than this, the ones we’ve previously bought, but this one seemed to conform to what we’d spoken about and what we were looking for. And it seemed fatter than usual. Doubts festered on the way home in the car. Was this right? Would it be too small? It was an unstated fear that the thing would be unsuitable – to look tiny and wrong and prove to us that we should have asked to see more trees at the trees shop. But it was fine. Slightly, very slightly, shorter than some others, but so full, so lush, a wide, dense, thickly branched specimen quickly acknowledged as the best tree we’d ever chosen together, and I might say, possibly the best I’ve ever seen.

There was more than enough room for all of the decorations. And some more. We bought a few other accent pieces – which sounds wanky, and we didn’t call them that, but there are a number of beautifully coloured and blown glass ornaments alongside crocheted things and figures and toys and baubles of other colours and materials, and it all just worked so very well this time. It always works well. Laetitia is chief decorator and I help. We decorate together but she has creative control. This time, though, it worked very well indeed.

And it struck me, not for the first time, that I am lucky. We both are into Christmas. It’s not a big thing and I wonder if relationships fail due to disagreements about tinsel, but people do have very definite ideas about how to observe this time of year, or not observe it, and what’s silly or unnecessary or childish, and it is a very good thing to not have to explain to your partner why you think we really could do with more flashing lights for the front yard. It works. We read A Christmas Carol to each other, and to the dogs and the cat, at Christmas 2011 and it seemed neither silly nor unworthwhile. Some of the accents and voices were a little bit all over the place, but that’s an aesthetic judgement, and it didn’t detract from the story, and the pets didn’t complain either.

The attraction of Christmas was never the presents for me, although I have been given some very fine and lovely things over the years. Presents was part of it, the magic of items shimmeringly appearing under the tree, glimpsed in the flashing lights every few seconds in the gloom of early morning. The magic of Santa, an immortal, almost godlike man dedicated to bringing childish joy, always seemed to resonate with me, and the joy and enjoyment don’t have to be childish, they can be childlike, I’ve learned, and therefore it’s up to you if you believe or want to take part. That’s what I’ve learned later: that there’s a whole collection of traditions from various cultures and you can dip into whichever ones suit, but that in general it is an occasion which you are free to opt into or out of, and I’ve always felt sorry for those who don’t opt in: people who don’t have a tree or don’t eat special foods or don’t do anything different that day, in honour of the day, to mark its splendid difference. These people have always been objects of pity for me, and not a little confusion, for as Scrooge’s nephew says at one point in A Christmas Carol, people who don’t take part and don’t partake are only hurting themselves by the harmless fun they miss[1]. Opting out does not detract from the enjoyment of anyone who choses to opt in (or not very much anyway). And that’s what I knew all along. That is was a special day. A family day. Where people gather and demonstrate their connectedness to each other. (And yes, I’m romanticising a bit, but this is the core of what it should be like: it is at least the reason for the time and money and effort which goes into making the occasion worthwhile.)

There are less definable things too: the way a pine tree smells in the house, the way baked vegetables smell and look in a bowl on the table, and many others.

New Years Eve has never had the same pull for me. It’s a popular time for many people, all over the world, and one reason must be that there is no religious connotation, and that all makes perfect sense. It also makes sense that people like the fact that it’s not hanging out with your relatives, as at Christmas, and being bored with stories you’ve heard before told by people who perhaps didn’t really need to drink the last drink they drank. The logic that then says: “right I’ll go off and drink heavily with other people at New Years” lacks a certain logic in one way, and yet it also makes sense. It’s something you do with your friends, and it’s about independence, and there’s a degree of freedom as you choose how to celebrate and where to celebrate and with whom. But unless you know wealthy people you often end up in a huge crowd looking at fireworks and thinking your feet can’t really get much sorer than they are right now.

The prospect of the new makes people happy. It’s exciting. The promise of the unknown rather than the fear, and that’s a reason to carouse.

Maybe people do more grown up things as they get a bit older at this time of year. I suspect they do. I’m quite happy to stay home and to listen to classical music and sip from several glasses of spirituous liquor and basically pretend that the whole thing isn’t really happening, but Laetitia isn’t. It’s a big thing for her, and in consequence we’ve developed a kind of two New Years system. It’s not perfect but it has worked well enough in recent times. It makes me feel a bit guilty, but then several things do that, and it must also be understood that the year ticking over is quite a depressing occasion for me. It’s just not Christmas, and that’s the point, I suppose.

[1] Clearly this doesn’t apply to those from other religions for whom Christmas is irrelevant.

Published in: on January 9, 2013 at 7:35 pm  Leave a Comment  
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