Save Christmas till December

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

9 Responses

  1. I’ve been wondering since a long time: If consumers would stop buying Christmassy things before December would that stop the shops early Christmas frenzy?
    I was surprised to notice that the decoration and shop frenzy in America seems to start way later than in Europe (or at least Switzerland that is… There you’d see the first Christmas things showing up in the shops as early as end of September – crazy!!). I suspect the later onset around here has to do with Thanksgiving that is kind of blocking the shops until end of November. I really like that, it allows for a kind of slower and smoother transition from summer to Christmas.

  2. An ideal world will never exist, since each of us has a different concept of what such a world would be. After, all, someone else’s ideal world might be shopping 24/7. We can but strive to live an ideal life under our own personal code of ethics. And in the end, any even tiny semblance to our ideal world will only come about by action in our own lives. Cynicism change little. Small acts of kindness can.

    Which brings me to Christmas. It is what each of us makes of it. That is what I take Coolidge to have meant. So I simply define Christmas in my own way, and practice it for myself as such. I don’t let others define it, or its symbols, for me.

    Symbols are powerful tools. A Christmas tree in November? Why not? You see it as “consumerism”, probably because it is by a store. But symbols can be used and defined by each of us. Why leave the store, a symbol of consumerism, alone to define (hijack) this symbol? Decorate a Christmas tree in June. Who says we can’t? Redefine the symbol. Bring it back to what it should symbolize.

    I for one also never bothered much with “rules” about Christmas, or when it should start or stop. Christmas has a Jan 6th “deadline”? Why? The Orthodox Christmas is Jan 7th (due to differences in the Gregorian calendar). And who is to say what calendar is “the right one” or when Christmas should start or stop?

    I have been known to keep the “Christmas” spirit year round. Or, as I always say, if you want to give or volunteer to the needy, cleans your soul in June, not in December, because the poor need help all year, not just around Christmas. If you can admit taking to yourself, I can admit for being known to hand someone a gift in any month of the year, smile and say “Merry Christmas”. The spirit of Christmas, to me, should be year round. I have been known to keep our Christmas lights and some decorations up till February (I would keep them up longer, but the sideways accusatory glances implying I am “lazy” increase exponentially after that month — and those are just the ones from the dog….).

    Christmas to me is not a symbol of endings. That I think is not an uncommon view, but one I think is more due to a coincidence of our Julian calendar year ending in December which is also the Julian calendar month of Christmas (versus the Gregorian calendar having it in January). Rather, to me, in all its real meaning and sense, Christmas is a symbol of beginnings. If one takes it as the birth of Christ, that then represents a new beginning. If one takes the pagan view of celebrations around the winter solstice (Scandinavian Yule celebrations or the Roman Saturnalia), this too is celebrate renewal: returning of longer days, the coming of spring and all the new life and growth the represents.

    I for one would think it would be a poor world indeed if the spirit of Christmas was just “saved” for December.

    Christmas year round? Sure, why not. Just make it your own.

    1. Each to their own. I quite like the 8 Dec – 6 Jan period for the festivities themselves. Do agree though that the spirit could do with an airing all well year ’round.

      1. “Each to their own” — to that I completely agree. But that is an antithesis to: “so please, World, save Christmas till December”, which is, in effect, a request for the world to take your view. 🙂

        1. Yes – the each to their own was how you interpreted my plea to keep the tinsel and the celebrations (and not the spirit) to December… 🙂

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