We all know the carol, right? On the first day of Christmas my true love sent to me… but when actually is the first day of Christmas? As Nigel says exasperatedly to Adam in Rev, ‘if I have to tell one more person it’s not Christmas yet, it’s Advent, I shall go stark staring bananas.’ I can’t find a clip but I promise you that’s actually what he said. Meanwhile here’s another quite pertinent clip:
Technically Nigel is correct: it’s Advent until Christmas Eve when the festive season actually begins. It may actually begin with Midnight Mass, I couldn’t swear to it. You’d think I’d know these things having been brought up in or very near the church, but I’ve blotted it all out – much as the church spire used to blot out the view… anyway, the first day of Christmas is actually Christmas Day, and the season of Christmas is the twelve days thereafter.
Not that you’d know it now. Christmas begins as soon as someone can get away with setting it all off. Of course this year is different, but normally you sense that retailers are nervously watching each other wondering who will be the first to break cover and announce their Christmas collection. It’s generally some time in October; we don’t even get the chance to celebrate Guy Fawkes (don’t get me started on Hallowe’en) in fact the children have barely settled into another school term before the Great Rush begins. By Christmas Day evening it’s all over; the presents have been torn open, the dinner eaten, the crackers pulled, the Queen watched (or avoided) and the dishwasher stacked. Or some poor sod sent into the kitchen to wash it all up.
It’s not that I’m particularly a traditionalist. I’m not Nigel, but I do deplore the over-commercialisation of Christmas, the guilt, the sense that you have to show you care by buying expensive presents, the overindulgence in food and drink. But more than all that, it’s the fact that Christmas nowadays is completely front-loaded. The whole thing is out of balance; we jettison the period of fasting and reflection and skip straight to the feasting. All cultures – so far as I know – celebrate something; the new moon, the harvest, a new birth, a coming to man- or womanhood. Jesus was not born on 25th December; the Midwinter celebration is much older than Christianity which was merely grafted onto it. But all traditional cultures have fasting as well as feasting and all the major religions include periods of abstinence as part of their calendar. It’s about balance – and our culture is way out of balance.
I’ve also become somewhat plaintive about the absence of the Queen from our airwaves. I’m not a flag-waving royalist; I’m on the fence about the monarchy, but I do think she should have put in more than one appearance during the current crisis (or crises). I think she should have made a series of speeches to encourage people which, though they might have nauseated some, would have provided comfort to others. If we’re going to have figureheads like the Queen, they should at least pop up and say something in dark times. So whether it’s her decision not to speak or someone else’s it’s a bad decision. Mind you, I wouldn’t put it past Johnson to prevent it on the grounds that it might make him look bad.
Anyway, that’s where we are. We try to celebrate Christmas by not panicking and not buying too much, just a few nice things. Oh god, how many presents have I got left to buy? Can I get my Sainsbury’s order in on time? Oh no, I haven’t sent any cards yet!
And let’s spare a thought for those who are going to be alone.