2 weeks to go so today the decorations are dug out of the shed, the tree goes up and the kids are allowed to stick on the CDs of festive songs whenever I’m out of the room: Feastmas is upon us.
But things were not always so jolly in the Ayres household, oh no. For there was a time, only a few years back, when the season was almost lost to us altogether. Gather round the log fire, relax with a glass of Bailey’s, pass round the bowl of brazil nuts and let me tell you a tale of when logic and reason threatened us all…
When my stepdaughter, Holly, was in her mid-teens, she announced one October that she was not going to be celebrating Christmas that year, or ever again for that matter. We were not Christians and politically had socio-anarcho-greeno leanings, so the idea that we would worship consumerism in the name of a god we don’t believe in, was the height of hypocrisy.
This turned out to be extremely difficult to argue against.
Ok, we’re not Christian, but we could celebrate the midwinter solstice instead… We’re not pagans either – you’re just swapping one religion for another.
But really it’s just a time of year for the family to be together… Well we could choose a day that was significant for us rather than pay the inflated prices during the high season of a world geared up to take as much money from us as possible.
But what about the magic of Christmas for the little ones - Santa and all that…? So you want to teach Rogan and Meg that it’s ok for a complete stranger to come into their house, and that they should accept gifts from someone they don’t know, before eventually discovering that one of their finest childhood experiences was nothing but a lie fabricated by you, the very people who bang on about the importance of honesty in life.
But what about the presents…? So you want them to grow up believing consumerism is the only viable route to happiness, while overloading your house with stuff you don’t need, rarely use and simultaneously reduce the amount of money you have to put towards the really important things in life. Besides, anything you really want can be bought for half price 2 days after the event.
We lost the argument. She was right. Given our religious and political beliefs, to celebrate Christmas seemed hypocritical in the extreme.
And when it came down to it, in truth I’d been trying to avoid much of Christmas for years anyway. Bombarded with Christmas carols and Christmas paraphernalia in shops, not to mention all the Christmas adverts on TV starting from as early as September, I’d become a cynical and grumpy bastard when it came to the festive season. We rarely got round to putting up the tree and decorations before the 23rd of the month and I did my utmost to avoid thinking about it until the very last moment.
So she won. We agreed that we would abandon Christmas. We would have a quiet family day, but we wouldn’t bother with trees, presents, decorations or fat men dressed in red.
Initially we felt good about taking a hard line stance against a world gone mad with greed, marketing and acquisitions. There were inevitably going to be a few complications trying to explain to friends and relatives why we would not be exchanging cards and why they shouldn’t be sending the kids any presents, but we felt confident that we were doing the right thing.
Well, nearly confident.
As time wore on the doubts grew, and grew, and grew.
We could be as politically highbrow as we wanted, but it was Rogan and Meg who would be going without. Christmas really was a magical time when I was a child and now I was denying it to my own children. It wasn’t like we spent extravagant amounts of money on it anyway- we’d always kept quite a tight rein on the budget. I may have heard all the Christmas songs ten thousand times, but the wee ones hadn’t. And in the bleak mid-winter there was something rather comforting about bringing colour, sparkle and a little bit of magic into the house.
Instead of feeling noble, it began to feel that the whole exercise was one of negativity. We weren’t embracing some positive alternative, all we were doing was kicking against the system but running the real risk of throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
So in the last 2 weeks we chickened out, back pedalling furiously against our high ideals, put up the decorations, bought some presents and stuck a school-made fairy on top of the Christmas tree. We heaved a sigh of relief, feeling that we’d almost lost something quite precious and actually gained a far better perspective on what it was important, for us, which is family being together and exchanging gifts. The gifts are not expensive – we probably spend less than 10% of the average consumer - but they are tokens of warmth and love and I don’t think anyone has ever felt hard done by.
It turns out that by keeping Christ and Consumerism out of Christmas it can actually be a very pleasant affair. I enjoy it now more than ever.