Welcome to The Study where I used to take an aspect of this week’s Just the Facts and delve in to it in a deep and meaningful way in order to bring further clarity to that aspect. Recently I have realised that no one visits on Facts Day and then again the day after and also, that if I link back to the facts article that I am focusing on an aspect of, that no one clicks that link anyway so they wouldn’t know if it was linked or not.
So I’ll just study anything and write that.
I would hope that you leave here having confusion and uncertainty wiped from your brain and carry instead a full understanding of what exactly is going on here.
This week, the month of December and how to reclaim it.
A lot of people will be metaphorically scratching their heads as they read ‘reclaiming’ December. Well, when I say a lot, probably about three. The thing is, December has one great looming thing in it that some people look forward to immensely.
For me it’s the end of December, for many others it’s the 25th.
Yes, the C-word. Consumeristmas. Or if you prefer ‘Christmas’. Or as the business world will prefer ‘The Holidays’. (People may think that calling the holidays ‘The Holidays’ comes out of some desire to not offend any religions that don’t celebrate Christmas, however it’s probably because commercial firms want no religious belief barriers for as many people as possible to be involved and therefore seeing absolutely no reason not to spend their money during it.)
Christmas, like most Christian things, was tacked on by the church to an existing period of festivities surrounding the only really significant winter event in peoples lives at that time, namely the Winter Solstice on December 21st. This was a time they called ‘Yule’, when something real and measurable started happening for which you saw the evidence with your own eyes – the days started getting longer afterwards.
The church added on their notional holiday called Christmas, for which the evidence was written in a book that pretty much no one could read so everyone had to believe it because the church said so – and they said you had to be nice to each other and also give them some money for the leaky roof. (Church roofs were always leaky and have always been, it’s traditional and in the Church Roofer Guild’s Code of Practise.)
People generally did accept the festival as the church generally gave licence for everyone to to have a party, which they were happy to do as it gave the excuse to stretch the existing party out for nearly a whole week.
Christmas existed and gradually somewhat subsumed the winter solstice celebrations and their traditions into its own lore, and it was a fairly small and innocuous party until the Victorians started getting involved in a big way.
It was the richer parts of the society of the time who started sending cards to each other with phrases of greetings in them. ‘Oh Joyous felicitations Great Aunt, may your season of merriment bring you closer to your time of ultimate peace and don’t forget I wished you well when it’s Will writing time.’ This was the general gist of it I believe.
Then they started gifting things to each other. ‘Oh Joyous felicitations Great Aunt, I trust these finest silken socks that I gift to you will be of great use and you remember me fondly for them when it comes to Will writing time.‘ This was the general gist of it I believe.
Of course, there were people who noticed that this was a great opportunity for selling things which could be given as a gift for this festival. They also recognised that this was an excellent chance to develop the market further, so more and more people were persuaded that spending money on gifts was a magnanimous thing to do and that it showed great class and breeding. Silk sock makers rejoiced and started thinking of other silken things to make. Scarves were an easy one, so they started there.
Over time the Christmas festival became something that was part of the aspirations of the lower and poorer classes. They wanted to appear to be rich enough to consider spending the little money they had on things to give to someone else, just like the nobs did, instead of keeping enough money for surviving the rest of the year ahead. So the silk makers began making cheaper socks and scarves out of wool. There was also a developing market for gloves and small oranges.
And now we fast forward to a typical December in the 21st Century. Perhaps the fast upcoming one.
December now starts at the end of October. Social media feeds start having the word ‘Christmas’ appear in them. By the second week of November there is no doubt that everyone knows that ‘Christmas is just round the corner.’ (Which is slightly odd to me as I have always had the mental image of seeing a year as being a circle.) And then my mother calls in the middle of November and says ‘So, what are you doing for Christmas this year?’
The advertisers start with a subtle hint at first but then their frequency erupts and their concept led program-length adverts become events themselves. And even my favourite music radio channel starts playing the same twenty songs that have sleigh bells in them on an endless loop and I despair.
I start thinking of hibernation and I probably would if the only place where they had snow deep enough to make a den in wasn’t subject to an actual sleigh being driven past in earshot.
For people like myself, the entire month of December, and increasingly the latter part of November, I am carried along with an increasing amount of despondency. I resent it all and resent it further with every passing year. I resent having to experience it all and I actually resent having any feelings about resenting it in the first place. ‘But you must have some joy in there somewhere, surely?’ people say.
I am not religious. I put my disbelief and lack of faith in what I was being told about a God seeing everything we did – and being particularly annoyed about naughty children not doing as they are told – down to not singing a hymn in my strongly Christian infant school assembly once. The intense, piano-playing teacher had made it clear it was a death sentence not to express and exalt your love for God as he was everywhere, watching…
I couldn’t see him for the life of me so I didn’t sing, and my fellow 6 year old scuffed-shoes-and-living-for-the-next-break-time-football-game companions were not struck down by a thunderbolt, as had been intimated. Although they were not aware that they had taken part in my experiment in rebellion and had got away with the possibility of being at least a little singed if I had been wrong.
So already, by six years old, I had worked out that, despite God apparently seeing everything, he had not noticed me not singing, which rather put a bum note, or no note at all, in the whole system. I decided, that day, that most of what came out of the typical religious speakers, from those beseeching me to behave according to their Gods moral standards, asking me to have faith in there being something that no one has ever seen but works in mysterious ways and it wasn’t our place to understand were, in fact, just lying. Or at very best, and being generous, were just repeating something because they believed it after listening to someone else say it.
He said I would be struck down if I didn’t sing. I didn’t sing and I wasn’t struck down, although if he has just been waiting 46 years for me to admit to the not singing for a bit of a joke he can strike me down now.
Umm… no, didn’t think so. Still not even singed.
Did I still do Christmas? Well of course I did, how’s a growing lad going to get the bikes and Action Men he wants otherwise? Just pretend it’s all going entirely as expected, along with the rest of the world, and take the spoils. Only later on did I wonder about why Jesus wanted me to have an Action Man and what, if I didn’t believe in him or God, I was doing getting anything for Christmas anyway. There was something odd going on.
But although that mercenary six year old attitude wasn’t originally the point when the church first got involved in it, I have since worked out that that it has probably always been the point since the Victorian businessmen got involved and started on making woollen gloves. A demand had been created successfully, hung on guilt. If you do not do ‘the Holidays’ now, you are some sort of miserable joy-killing grouch.
So you now not only have the expectations of giving and receiving gifts (to make you feel good, even if the gifts are utter, utter crap) but an entire festive industry of wasteful but profit-making associated gubbins. A full packaged-up wallet emptier.
I don’t do glitter, snowmen, robins, decorations, trees, ironical tasteless Christmas jumpers, worry about the meal, spend next years budget for gifts on this years gifts and spend the next year paying it off, being falsely happy and cheerful or being drunk to help me be falsely happy and cheerful.
I don’t do replying ‘To you too!’ to complete strangers who have just wished me a Merry Christmas when passing me in the street.
You are going to say ‘You’re a bit of a humbug aren’t you?’ and I will not reply because I don’t give a Dickens what you think. I know my reasons, I’ll just let you do your own thing if you don’t try to make me do your thing.
But the world in general insists I am the miserable sort and tries to get me to ‘lighten up’ and join in anyway. For a few days in December.
Then it forgets all about me and goes back to attempting to take my money in the normal way for the rest of the year.
And what would the world be like if you didn’t just try to switch on the extra caring, extra friendly, extra generous feelings for each other for those two or three days but all the time – but without all the shopping for gloves and socks?
So December is switch off time for me now. I am reclaiming mine, for me.
No social media. No blogging unless perhaps a Rhyme falls out.
I have enrolled on a few online courses (I’ve always wanted to be able to draw so my ‘Reclaiming December’ activity this year is learning how to and practising doing that.)
Now I am old enough, the kids are old enough and I’ve trained the rest of my extended family, I refuse Christmas. And by doing so I reclaim all the time not spent having anything to do with it – after writing this post all about that of course – to really enjoy December.
Good books, check. Sketch pads and pencils, check. Ample supply of tea and biscuits, check. Ability to go out for a walk and not go anywhere near a shopping centre, check (dependent on gale force and volume of horizontal wet or frozen stuff.)
I urge you to Reclaim December too, to do something YOU want to do, for yourself.
Unless you are one of those that really, honestly and truthfully enjoys Christmas and everything it is now.
Come back next week to read some old stuff because there won’t be anything new for a bit.