Christmas was busy. I worked the day and night before Christmas Eve and then I worked Christmas Eve night after a very busy Christmas Eve. I was lucky to get Christmas Day to myself.
In the past, I’ve always said I love to work over Christmas but by ‘work’, I roughly meant ‘doing the things I enjoy’, whether that was writing or drawing. I did neither this year, too eaten away by real work I don’t particularly enjoy and real life which has been difficult.
Perhaps it’s why I’ve had more time to notice Christmas this year. Perhaps my senses are just attuned to it more but I thought this Christmas more low key than Christmases past. The shops weren’t quite as explicit in their celebration of Christmas. TV didn’t seem quite as special. Even Sky News made a big deal about their not making a fuss about Christmas, telling us that it was business as usual over the festive break. Dare I hope that it’s a sign that Christmas is losing its significance in British culture?
I say ‘hope’ but I’m not entirely sure that I wish Christmas gone or to grow less significant. I just want rid of what Christmas has become: a guilt-driven retail obscenity disguised as something bright, warm, and worth cherishing. I travelled into Manchester on Christmas Eve to finish off what little shopping I did on the high street but partly just to enjoy the atmosphere. Yet the atmosphere was next to non-existent. The Christmas markets had already packed up and gone and many of the stores were in the early stages of emptying their shelves and preparing for the New Year sales. It demonstrated what Christmas really means to the high street. They don’t celebrate Christmas, merely what Christmas allows them to do. It’s naïve of me to expect different but I can’t help but reflect how Christmases were very different just a decade or two ago.
It’s not in such a distant past when times were harder and Christmas the one time of the year when we’d eat slightly better food and feel grateful for the few gifts we’d receive. Yet Britain has changed and Christmas has changed with it. Perhaps we’ve become more prosperous, when children routinely ask for iPads and expensive headphones. Maybe food has just got cheaper (despite what recent years otherwise suggest) so we enjoy luxuries all the year round. Yet it’s only very recently that Amazon have imported the Black Friday nonsense that other retailers have copied. I personally think they’re making one trip too many to the already dry well. Black Friday has made Christmas less special, just one of a number of retail ‘events’ crowded into two months at the end of the year.
Last night I watched the usual Christmas service on the BBC. I’m not religious, though I wish I were. I usually find myself watching the Christmas service. I wish I could believe in heavens, Gods, and the rest. I wish I were Catholic, so I could feel kinship with a Church that exists to laud something more significant than ourselves. I wish I were a believer just to show my appreciation for the artists who devoted their lives to devotional works. Sadly, for me, I don’t believe. I’m probably one of those atheists that the new Pope addressed when he asked atheists to stand with believers in working towards ‘a homemade peace’. I wish I could believe in God but I do believe in morality and living a moral life. I believe in the Christmas message, just not what Christmas has become. I always feel happy when Christmas is over. I feel happy that the feelings of great sadness might be past me. Christmas is when I miss people who were central to my life: my father and other relatives who made my Christmases fun. Yet it’s also that older sense of Christmas that I miss. I miss Christmas when we didn’t feel ashamed to talk about nativity or the church, even at the same time as we would also laugh about it and say how ridiculous it all was. I miss my Uncle Harry nearly setting fire to the church when he dropped his candle in an orange, which was part of the Christmas service. The thing is: I can now see that it never was that ridiculous because despite all the talk of myths, legends, and magic, it was based on something more real than Amazon Prime and having the latest smart phone. It was about people.
This was brought into focus watching the BBC yesterday. An ad came on which you might have seen. It had ordinary folk sitting looking bored on a train. It was meant to be the days before smart phones and the message of the ad was that we were bored back then. We look at the faces of the ordinary folk and they’re all sad.
Suddenly, we’re in the smart phone age and hands lift up screens so they cover the sad faces of the ordinary folk. Suddenly, their bodies sit beneath heads belonging to Bruce Forsyth and Miranda. They’re no longer dull ordinary folk but celebrities.
No add has ever made me feel so sad about what we’ve become, so preoccupied with selfies and celebrities. And that, I guess, is the problem with the modern Christmas, obsessed with brand and fashion. I’m just ordinary folk and I guess you are too, if, indeed, anybody is out there reading this. So, here at the other end of Christmas Day, I just wanted to say thank you for reading this blog. Thank you for understanding what I’m trying to say from the undernourished side of celebrity. I’d rather be with you on a train journey than Brucie or Miranda or any of those talentless bores. And let me just an ordinary shmo, wish you a very sincere Merry Christmas and a prosperous New Year.