As the Christmas decorations go up in Checkers (in September) and carols start to blare over the loudspeakers in malls countrywide (coming soon to an elevator near you), those things that people always say start to be said, and it doesn't have anything to do with being jolly. People feel harassed and put upon by them demm Christians and their holiday-that-isn't-even-their-holiday-it-was-a-pagan-one-the-Christians-stole-like-a-lot-of-other-things. Plus the glossy advertisements clog up the windows, newspapers and television, complete with cutesy children and holly-bedecked, ahem, "maidens". Public Christmas is a bit of a circus, particularly on the South Coast when thousands of binnelanders descend on our little town to be rude to shop assistants, get drunk and disfuguringly sunburnt on our beaches and - it must be said - give the South Coast a lovely big injection of much-needed cash.
That is what the Christmas season is at the end of it all: a huge money-making racket. I'm sure it was back in the pagan days too and the Church was only too happy to jump on that money spinner. (Incidentally, I am reading Bill Bryson's "At Home" (tagline, "The Perfect Christmas Gift") and he says that the Christmas card was invented by someone back in the day to encourage people to use the penny post. Yes, more money-spinners...) Loathing Christmas and all its consumerist trappings, many people on facebook - that omnipotent meter of public opinion - put "Happy Consumerism" or "Happy Consumption" as their statuses instead of Happy Christmas. They also drive themselves crazy complaining about Christmas Carols that come around every year.
Well I've said it and it's true and isn't Christmas a terrible thing enforced on everybody etc. But the realer truth (isn't there always a real-er truth?) is that I love Christmas. For a start, I really appreciate people close to me indulging in shameless consumerism on my behalf: to speak plainly, someone else buys me a book/books. That is never a bad thing. Secondly (and more importantly) I get to wander around and search for gifts that my friends and family will love or (if I'm feeling very creative) I will make something. I put together CDs of music that I have compiled after many hours of planning as to which people would enjoy which songs and in which order. I also cut up old magazines and make collages on bookmarks with a well-chosen quote or (my most recent project) I draw something. Then I get to search for ribbon and paper and wrap it. That part may not sound very exciting but there are such pretty ways of doing these things they are little ecstasies.
Thirdly, I love singing carols. Every year my old singing teacher Mrs. Spiller (a marvelous lady of eighty years old who has taught (and is still teaching) piano and singing to generations of South Coast musicians and music teachers including myself and up and coming theatre star Roland Perold) gets a group of us together (the same group every year) to sing. They are carols nobody recognises (except for a difficult three-part rendition of "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" that we always mess up) and contain harmony parts that at worst consist of the words "Jingle-Jingle" and "giddy-up" and at best are quite haunting and beautiful. We sing at old age homes, churches and Christmas markets and sometimes there are eight of us and sometimes there are close to twenty. Nevertheless, all of us meet together after not having seen each other all year because we all love Mrs. Spiller and we love making music.
Perhaps that is still what some people hate about Christmas: being forced together with people you don't really know (and may not even like) every year just because it is Christmas. That's not something that has ever bothered me. I like seeing the people come back every year: hearing what business they are up to, what singing exams they have done and hearing how their voices have developed. I may not see or chat to them for the rest of the year, but seeing them always brings a smile to my face because of the shared memories and the shared music. I really am interested in how they are doing and what they are doing.
So I like that about Christmas. Personally, I love commemorating the birth of Jesus Christ (a man who preached absolute love and goodness) but I don't think that is what makes it special for the cosmopolitan community at large. It is the festive atmosphere and the bringing together of disparate groups, like the motley assemblage of singers or the various people who come back to staff Ramsgate Stationers every year.
A Hindu man came into Ramsgate Stationers the other day looking for big Christmas decorations to put outside his house. He said he didn't celebrate Christmas in the traditional sense of the word, but he wanted to brighten up his neighbourhood and enjoy the holiday with neighbours and friends. I think I know what he means. Whether you believe in the religious aspect or not, Christmas is the most concentrated block of public holidays and long leaves and that results - where I live - in people returning to work together once again with other people outside their usual paths and routines. It is for that reason I will (joyfully) sing my Christmas carols and feel far from an impending sense of dread at the approach of Christmas.