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Sunday, 23 December 2007

Traditional Christmas? Bah! Humbug!

It might help. I think, if I tell you where I am coming from: I love the traditional Christmas. Was brought up to love it. When I was a child we lived with my grandparents. They, especially my grandad, might have stepped straight out of The Old Curiosity Shop or A Christmas Carol. No-one was ever more Victorian than he. The first Christmas that I can remember was my fifth. I was in hospital. There was deep snow outside. At visiting times I could see, through the window behind my bed, my parents trudging through the snow to visit me. I was in a large children's ward. The nurses brought snow in from the grounds for us to throw at each other across the ward. There was a large, sparkling Christmas tree with presents, and on Christmas Day they carried into the ward a flaming Christmas pudding. The next few Christmases were trickier; the country was at war and the unavoidable austerities restricted what could be done, but my parents and grandparents still managed to create the illusion of a traditional Christmas. Perhaps it wasn't illusion. At Christmas everything changed, was different from the rest of the year. It began on Christmas Eve with the whole family going to church (for the rest of the year only we children went). Then on Christmas Day the house was full of people - adults, most of whom would sleep on the floor overnight. After we (my brother and I) had gone to bed and were judged to be asleep, the adults would engage in their adult things. like playing cards or Sandown, a horse-racing game with a large wheel like a roulette wheel, but without the ball and with horses instead of numbers. On this much money was lost and won, I think, "much" being a relative term, as none of them were wealthy. (And if all that does not sound very "traditional", then all I can say is that as a small boy I did not make such fine distinctions: the rest of Christmas was as traditional as could be, and that bit just made it even more different and more exciting, for I would creep out onto the landing and watch and listen and feel myself to be part of those adult activities.) It was the whole package that coloured my feelings towards Christmas, so, yes, I am for the traditional festival.

Even so, I see no point in trying to hold back the tide and trying to pretend that the traditional ways are not passing - indeed, have all but passed, as surely as has that more ancient tradition which has the manger at its centre. When I think back to my early Christmases - and it is not all due to the rosy tinted spectacles of memory, or to having been a child back then - and look around me now, I feel that I can say with Wordsworth, "The things which I have seen I now can see no more".

So why do I get so annoyed when the media try to play Canute on our behalf? Do they imagine that, it being Christmas, half the nation is waiting in breathless anticipation for yet another repeat or reprint of "Oliver Twist" or "A Christmas Carol" - or even one more analysis of why the Dickens stories are so important. And for that we are willing to sacrifice whatever of our favourite programmes or columns they decide to cut? Or are they merely trying to remind us of what recent origin these "traditions" are? No older than Charles Dickens, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Not really traditions at all, then!

Even more difficult to see, is why they also find it part of their bounden duty to inflict upon us at this time of the year their worthless book lists: "Books for Christmas", "The Best Five Books of the Year", etc, in which fifteen or more authors or - worse still - celebrities, outline in eight column lines their five favourites and say why they have chosen them. These are often followed by same-but-different reviews for the new year. The Guardian is probably the least susceptible to this sort of tomfoolery, but even it succumbed this weekend, junking its usual roundup of the blogs and - worse still - the usual poetry review, for.... wait for it: another lesson on why the stories of Charles Dickens are so important! They are, but they now belong elsewhere. The babe in the manger, too, is as important as He ever was - or He could become so - but not if He is just being used to keep the tide at bay.

I shall not post again until after Christmas (probably), so whether yours is to be a traditional Christmas, a content-free Christmas or something inbetween, may it be the best of its kind and full of good cheer for you and yours.

1 comment:

Jim Murdoch said...

My objection is that tradition has been devalued to repetition. Even as I write this I'm listening to a repeat of an old The Two Ronnies from the eighties judging by the lack of dress sense. I'm not saying there should be no repeats – I have a list the length of my arm of things I would love to see again – and I'm all for introducing new generations to some of the classic artists from the past, but it's always the same repeats, perhaps because they've wiped much of the good stuff.

Tradition is more subtle than plain replication. Okay, so we have a tree every year but it's not always the same tree and, even if it is, it is never decorated in exactly the same even if we don't bother with any new decorations. But the thing is, we do, maybe not every year (and even then only a couple at a time usually) but gradually it changes but it still conforms to our expectations of what is "traditional".

When my daughter first moved out, my wife and I bought he an advent calendar, a reusable one, and so, every year, even though she is nearly thirty, we still have her return the thing to us every November for refilling. She objects, maintains she is too old, but the thing keeps turning up. It has become a tradition even though it is only about ten years old. Even the oldest traditions were young once.

I suppose it's what we choose to accept as new traditions as opposed to those that are foisted upon up that makes all the difference.