Bah Humbag: Slowing Down Christmas

Well, it is December and I have lifted my self imposed Christmas embargo. I refuse to even think about Christmas until now, no matter how much adverts and Tesco try and make me (I am sat here watching Love Actually. It is the one film that cannot fail to make me feel Christmassy!).

I don’t like Christmas. Well, that is not strictly true. I don’t like what Christmas has become. It seems to have become this secular celebration of consumerism.

All people care about is what presents to get, what presents they will receive, what food they need to buy (and, boy, do they buy! It is only 2 days, yet people seem to shop like they will never be allowed to buy food again), it is all spend, spend, spend…

Go and walk around your local high street now and you won’t see much the “season to be jolly” (or much “good will to all (wo)men” for that matter), all you will see is crowds (and crowds, and crowds…) of stressed and angry shoppers shuffling around.

It is ridiculous, and about as far removed from the original meaning of Christmas as we can get…

What is Christmas? Really?

What are the ancient roots of Christmas and the festivities that surround it?

Well, I am sure you are all aware of the song “12 Days of Christmas'”…

“Fiiiiiiiiiiivvvveeeee Gooooooolllllldddd Riiiiiinnnnggssss….” And all that.

That was because Christmas would last 12 whole days! It would start on the 25th December and finish on the 6th January (12th Night). Originally Christmas Day was celebrated on January 6th, when presents were given in honour of Saint Nicholas (the forefather of Father Christmas).

It was a time of merriment, feasting and general festivity (but still a holy day, with 3 masses on 25th December to start the ball rolling), with plays, processions and merry-making. It was not the family orientated affair we know today, but a celebration that involved the whole community.

Christmas (or Yule, or Christmastide, or the festival of Epiphany, or the Winter Solstice!) was a time of revelry, of community spirit, of celebration and feasting that lasted days (some sources say they started in November!), ending on 12th Night, or the Feast of Epiphany on the 6th January. It combined pre-Christian traditions and Christian elements to give thanks and distract ourselves from the cold, dark winters…

The Christmas We Know Today

The Christmas we know today (with the 2 days – Christmas Day and Boxing Day) was really an invention of those lovers of speed; the Victorians, to reduce the festive period into a manageable 2-day holiday so we could all get back to work as soon as possible (this was in the midst of the Industrial revolution).

However the rot set in a long time before those harebrained Victorians got their mitts on Christmas, around the time of Reformation, when Martin Luther created the Protestant Church (and the gave name to the dreaded “Protestant Work Ethic”) and started to cull the Pre-Reformation holidays and festivals as they deemed them “hedonistic” and “superstitious” (Christmas was even BANNED in Britain in 1647).

The blueprint for the modern Christmas celebrations was laid down in Charles Dickens “A Christmas Carol” (thanks Charley), with the idea of the one-day of feasting and celebration (Boxing day wasn’t traditionally classed as holiday unitl 1871, when the Bank Holidays Act in the UK was designated a Bank Holiday). It is suggested that Dickens (being a popular author of the time) was unofficially employed to do a bit of PR job on the new, shorter Christmas celebrations, as the workers were somewhat reticent of giving up their festivities (and who can blame them?).

Because of the truncated nature of the celebration and the fact that people were moving into the cities and away from the traditional village community, the onus moved away from the community as whole and focused much more just on the family (remember, most families all lived under one roof back then…).

When you describe Christmas like that, and discover the modern celebrations cynical roots, can you see why I am not a huge fan?!

How Can You Slow Down Christmas?

“We’re all dreaming of a pre-Reformation Christmas, when the festival really did last twelve days and during which time work and trade were forbidden, and instead we all danced, sang, ate, drank and generally made extremely merry. The sour-faced Parliamentarians of the Cromwell state actually tried to ban Christmas altogether, considering it Popish, old-fashioned and far too much fun. Luckily Charles II brought it back in 1660 and the medieval spirit of Christmas has survived.” – Tom Hodgkinson

The fact is, we are going to celebrate Christmas aren’t we? And why shouldn’t we?! I am not against Christmas as festival, I am just not too comfortable with it as the modern celebration of consumerism and speed that it has become.

Christmas should be a little bit of a revolt against the increasing pressure and stress of work and the consumer society and, in my humble opinion, the old Pre-Reformation celebrations were a much “Slower” than our current ones.

The idea here is to introduce (or re-introduce) some of the Pre-Reformation intentions that you may find will reduce you Christmas stress and turn it back into a time for you to enjoy!

1) Celebrate the full 12 Days!

Try and plan to do something for the full 12 days, rather than rushing to get everything done in the 2 days we have allotted to us. The time between Christmas and New Year is often a bit of an empty space and we are not sure what do to with ourselves. Well by celebrating the full 12 days you can use that time to catch up with friends and family at a more leisurely pace.

There are still some organisations that shut between Christmas and New Year (and good on them!), but if not, you can still do something in that time.

2) Go carol singing (or Wassailing as it was traditionally known)

Ancient carol singing was a bit of a rowdy affair, where people would go from house to house and sing and be offered alcohol by the inhabitants. I am not suggesting you go and harass your neighbours for booze, but a spot of drinking and singing does wonders to lift the spirits!

3) Don’t bow to pressure to do things that are “expected” of you

Christmas is a time for celebration not “duty”, if you don’t enjoy it at the rest of the year, why do it now?  Spend it with people you really want to, not people you think you should.

4) Buy gifts that mean something, not that cost the earth

The giving of presents seems to have become the central tenant of the modern Christmas with people stressing and panicking about what to buy people and often going into debt to pay for it.  Don’t buy pointless gifts just because you think you should, take some time to consider what that person would really appreciate and it (or make it!) for them. Presents don’t need to be expensive to be good.

5) Don’t go shopping

The internet is a godsend for this. You can do all your Christmas shopping from the comfort of your own sofa without needing to go out and face the hordes (unless fighting your way through crowds of angry shoppers makes you feel Christmassy).

6) The thorny issue of Christmas Cards

Hand written? Electronic? Don’t bother? Every year we seem to have to send cards to more and more people; work colleagues, neighbours (who we often don’t even know the name of), distant relatives we can barely remember. It gets more and more expensive, it is strain on the poor postal service and all that paper is hardly good for the planet (even if it is recycled or from a sustainable source).  I like the idea that seems to have sprung up of recent years (at least with people I know), and that is to donate the money you would have spent on cards to charity and then just send a generic email telling everyone that is what you have done. Of course, still send cards to people who are close to you!

7) Give something to the community

Boxing day got its name from giving gifts (or Christmas “boxes” to the poor) and Christmas was traditionally a time for community. So why not give something back? You can do anything you want from giving a donation to a charity (see the suggestion about Christmas cards), to getting more involved in something, it is up to you. Giving something back honours the Christmas spirit and will make you feel surprisingly good!

This is will probably be my last post of 2009. So I wish a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year (and, in fact, the new decade) and I will see you in the 2010.

Matt

PS, If you liked this post, please bookmark it on Digg, Stumbled Upon, Twitter, etc. I would really appreciate it :)

The ideal Christmas Present for the Harebrained person:

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