I’ve been known, on occasion, to talk to myself – out loud. It can be rather disconcerting for passersby who happen to overhear the argument I’m having, especially when there is no visible evidence that I’m in talking to anyone but me. No headphones, no microphone, no phone at all. Usually they tend to give me a wide berth. Sometimes they stand and watch, particularly if my argument involves my pacing up and down the street as I try to decide which way I’m going. Yes, there is dark side to us all.
I was down near Boráros tér the other day. I’d popped into Spar. I’d never been into this particular branch before and as I tried to figure out where the shop entrance was (it’s in the basement, if you’re interested), I saw a Christmas tree, fully decorated, standing near the door. I stopped and let out a very loud ‘Oh, for goodness sake – it’s only November!’ The security guard might have missed my meaning but he certainly caught my exasperation and from his resigned shrug, I reckon he was in complete agreement.
I’ve never noticed Christmas coming early to Budapest. Yes, I’ve complained when it hits before the prescribed date – 8 December – and when it lasts longer than the deadline – 6 January, but I’ve never seen it appear this early. Of course, that prescription is one I’ve brought with me from home. The 8th of December is known in Ireland as Farmers’ Christmas; it’s the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, a holy day of obligation, and traditionally the day when nearly every farmer in the country headed to Dublin to do their Christmas shopping, heralding the start of the season. The 6th of January is known as Nollaig na mBan (Women’s Christmas) – another feast day – this time of the Epiphany. This is traditionally when the women of Ireland get to celebrate after weeks of hard slog in the kitchen, while the men stay home and do the work. It brings the season to a close.
Christmas outside Christmas is, for me, evidence of our growing obsession with consumerism, or perhaps, more correctly, evidence of the market’s (natural) growing obsession with consumers. The more time we have to shop, the more money we will spend; so it follows that the longer the lead-up to Christmas is, the larger their profit margin.
I get the fact that our antipodean friends celebrate Christmas in July (as a bit of fun, but still mainly Christmas in December). I understand their need to have the holiday in the cold. My first Christmas in California was so surreal that I simply couldn’t take it seriously – eating turkey in shorts and a t-shirt, al fresco, in hot weather just didn’t do it for me. July or December works. But not November.
Christmas marks the end of yet another year. It’s like the last hurrah before a new chapter begins. It’s a time of homecoming, of reckoning, of forgiveness, of goodwill. It’s when the goodness in most of us spills over and we become nicer people, however temporarily. And you’d think that would be something I’d welcome?
US president Calvin Coolidge reckoned that ‘Christmas is not a time nor a season, but a state of mind.’ And in an ideal world, I’d be right there on the podium with him. But as the cynic in me screams commercialism, even the idealist in me says you can get too much of a good thing – so please, World, save Christmas till December.
First published in the Budapest Times 21 November 2014