In Jerome K Jerome’s introduction to his 1891 collection Told After Supper, he wrote: “Whenever five or six English-speaking people meet round a fire on Christmas Eve, they start telling each other ghost stories.” If this is a magical season where wishes are granted, don’t you long to return to such a delicious cultural consensus? The stark reality, however, is that in 21st-century Britain, where Christmas seems largely about swearing over the last trolley in Morrisons’ car park, our festive culture has narrowed horribly. Music is provided by whatever collection of startled-eyed urchins have won The X Factor, dutifully whining manufactured ear rot. Television’s highlights offer incomprehensible, adulterous cockneys weeping in a pub, or comely toffs being stoic in a stately home, and that’s pretty much it until reality TV stars begin advertising white goods in the January sales.
The Victorians, who invented the modern Christmas, would be baffled by this cultural desert. Regardless that their seasonal celebrations were as a much of a concocted conceit as our own, theirs was crafted around charity, family, nostalgia and, most interesting of all, an enthusiastic embracing of the supernatural. The Christmas ghost story was one of their finest legacies, and it’s only relatively recently that we’ve abandoned it as a treasured tradition.
An interesting read. Aside from the ghost story aspect, Christmas certainly is not what it used to be when I was younger. There really does seem to be too much emphasis on gluttony. Shelling out money for gifts no-one really needs seems such an utterly pointless thing to do—unless you are a retailer, of course.
The act of giving is a marvellous thing. Even a misogynistic non-believer like me enjoys giving a gift. Where we seem to have gone wrong is the assumption that we must buy something—anything—to give to family and friends, whether the gift will bring happiness or not. It all seems wrong, somehow. A gift should be given when it means something, not just because it is the expected thing to do.
I doubt we will ever see the Christmasses of my childhood return. This will be a pity. Still, as I type this on the morning of Christmas Eve 2011, I send out seasonal greetings to one and all. Merry Christmas!