OK, for the purposes of this aside on the festivities, let’s leave kids out of the equation. Christmas for them is different. Never mind that the Star of Bethlehem doesn’t move nearly as fast as the flashes from their magnums as they play the kindergarten equivalent of Grand Theft Auto – there are sparkly things everywhere, a huge tree is suddenly growing and twinkling inside the house and the fat guy with the red gear is on his way. My cynicism about it all is barely disguised but I genuinely am happy that it makes kids happy.
But this isn’t about the kids’ Christmas (or the Christmas for genuine believers, which, again, I acknowledge is something different and something special). This is about Christmas for heathens such as me and even those heathens who still pay lip-service to the notion that it’s somehow connected with a religious faith.
I used to get angry about the whole thing – all the enforced jollity, the contagion of Santa’s ‘Ho-ho-ho’. I found it sad that people were nice to one another just because it was Christmas and couldn’t see that it would be good to be like that right through the year. Why not be happy, caring and ho-ho-ho-ish because it’s Tuesday or October or late afternoon? I didn’t like the profits made from crap goods that wouldn’t even last until bedtime. I couldn’t see the point of sending a card to someone ‘because they’d sent one to you’. I was the guy wandering amongst all the ever-so-jolly adverts, listening to Bing Crosby, George Michael, Wizzard and Slade belting out their singalongs in all the shops and muttering ‘Bah humbug’ at every opportunity. I was the pre-ghosts Scrooge minus his miserliness.
Then, lo, it came to pass (several years ago, actually) that the scales fell from my eyes and I realised what I’d known all along – that’s it’s the festival of Godot. Waiting for Godot is about all sorts of things. It’s bleak and yet very funny, it’s simultaneously theatrical and anti-theatrical, and it sums up marvellously how we live our lives. I want everyone who reads this to have a wonderful happy time, so I won’t stress (well, not much, anyway) the essential self-deception of waiting for something which never happens, but that’s what Christmas is. The anticipation begins earlier and earlier each year – and that’s marvellous, because there’s a feeling of direction, purpose, a reason to do particular things. The excitement and magic is a daily experience, through late October, November, December.
The mistake is to assume it’s building up TO something. It’s not. Nothing could match the build-up, so Christmas Day arrives, then goes. And almost at once the newspapers start including supplements about summer holidays. Philip Larkin’s poem Next, Please is a powerful evocation of our Waiting for Godot lives and, although it’s not about Christmas, it encapsulates the season. I’m not going to quote it because its truth (for an unbeliever) may seem uncomfortable (and for a believer, it’s just plain wrong).
And no, I’m not just being a miserable old bugger. I’m having a good time. I like the excitement, the gaudiness, the superficial impression that everything’s OK really. I love the wonder in the faces of the younger kids and the naked, smiling acquisitiveness of the older kids who’ve learned how to work the system. And I actually think it’s a shame that, in the USA, for some reason, the bluff, complex cheer of the greeting ‘Merry Christmas’ has been replaced by the bland ‘Happy Holidays’.
But I really, really do want everyone (of all faiths or none) to have a great time. So please do.