Now let me say straight away that I am not a Scrooge type, and Christmas to me is not humbug. I do enjoy the day itself, the presents, the food and drink, and seeing family and friends. That wonderful drowsiness that comes when laid out on the settee after a hearty Christmas lunch and a few glasses of wine is hard to beat. Top quality television keeps everyone amused and, to the sound of tunnel digging on the afternoon film, I embark on my own great escape to the land of Nod with a paper hat at a jaunty angle on my head. In short, I am as festive as the next bloke.
What I dislike about Christmas is the increasingly early run up we are obliged to take. It is only October, but already the shops are gearing up for the big ho-ho-hoedown that will see us try to string peace on earth and good will to all men out for over two months. This is quite a challenge.
With horrendous queues in stores, parking nightmares and the ridiculous expense, maintaining the Christmas spirit for so long is no easy task. Long before the guy in the red suit has loaded up his sleigh, good will is severely tested and in some cases replaced by a strong urge to carry out Homer Simpson style strangulations on fellow shoppers, checkout staff and even children.
Just as the first falling leaves signal the onset of autumn, the first signs of Christmas are subtle, usually the appearance of cards and wrapping paper in shops. This is closely followed by a steady increase in TV adverts for toys. Then the first external lights go up in your street and the next time you visit the supermarket, it’s like Santa’s grotto with a Christmas Hits CD piping music into tinsel decked aisles, at the end of which sit checkout staff wearing false antlers. This is usually the state-of-play by mid-November.
But nobody looks happy. Miserable people queue in stores with toys in huge boxes as Jonah Lewie tries yet again to stop that cavalry. Meanwhile, upstairs in the boardroom, those who instigate this retail riot celebrate their success with a chorus of Kerchingle Bells. And at the other end of the scale, in households up and down the land families on low incomes are taking out doorstep loans at exorbitant rates, or buying from those outlets that overlook your poor credit history, at a cost, to make sure that their children have the same as those from more affluent families. By the time Christmas Eve arrives, there is a collective, heartfelt cry of “I’ll be glad when it’s all over”.
And who can blame them? Having had what passes for Christmas rammed down their throats like so much dry turkey for almost three months, the end is a merciful release. And as early as Boxing Day you might see the tip of a discarded Christmas tree protruding from a wheelie bin; a signal that one family at least has had enough.
There have been half-hearted campaigns to ‘put Christmas back into December’, but these have largely fallen on ears deafened by the ringing of tills. These well-meaning people might have more success if they tried to bring back old money, or abolish TV remotes in favour of a return to buttons on the set.
But this cavalcade of commerce that sets off in October is actually destroying the tradition of Christmas itself. Those ‘Twelve Days of Christmas’ we sing about actually begin on Christmas Day, and last until Twelfth Night on January 6th. Who among us could maintain the Christmas spirit for a further twelve days after the great climax of pressie-opening that was three months in the making? Not many, and there aren’t too many living rooms that wait until Twelfth Night to yell an enthusiastic ‘Timberrrr’ as their tree is felled and the baubles packed away until next autumn. Most come down at New Year.
And the wrapping paper is binned, the pine needles are vacuumed up and it is as though Christmas never even happened. Outside, as darkness falls, the Christmas lights in the town centre that were switched on by him off the telly are no more, and the brightly lit house fronts that glowed and throbbed in a neon night show now have no more illumination than the dim glow that is given off by light bulbs behind curtained windows.
And in the supermarkets normality has returned. Festive music has been replaced by traditional supermarket muzak, the tinsel has all gone and the girl on the checkout has had her antlers polled. You breathe a sigh of relief as you push your trolley around, stress free like you did back in September last year. Then, out of the corner of your eye, you spot the Easter eggs.