Merry Christmas! It’s here; it’s the most wonderful time of the year. That time honoured festival, where people throughout the ages have celebrated the coming to an end of darkest days of winter by filling it with a feeling of optimism and togetherness for the year ahead. It had only just turned September when the 1st signs were there to be spotted by the curious passersby. And in the race to win over the hearts and minds of those less fortunate than themselves, it’s the business world who, as usual have bolted from the start line.
First signs were the sneaky inclusion of some wrapping paper and bows, hidden low down at the foot of the shelves in a few stores. “What a funny sight at this time of year”, I did think to myself as I first laid eyes on them. I wondered who in their right mind would have already brought Christmas presents and be looking to wrap them? Are there really that many people heading away on a 3 month vacation who will be out of reach of a reliable post service?
So, are the stores making a good profit and getting the cash flow running early? Is it just planning ahead and filling the space? Or possibly, could it just be to get people thinking about buying? Besides my suspicions, there are probably many other reasons that are better known to those in seasonal sales and marketing. However (and feel free to call me a cynic) but it doesn’t seem anything new for a group to manipulate a holiday to suit their own cause. Even a celebration seemingly originally founded from the best of humanity’s spirit.
Pinned to today’s Gregorian calendar there would be a 1 in 365.2425 chance of getting it right, however when Hippolytus of Rome put forward the suggestion and when Pope Julius the 1st and others declared the date of their Saviors birthday, it seems a co-incidence that they picked the date they did. Especially, when the decision came centuries after the event. I heard a line tonight, it was from the Deep Space Nine episode ‘Cardassians’ and it seems quite apt to share at this moment and it went as follows, "I believe in coincidences, coincidences happen every day... but I don't trust coincidences."
So it seems quite likely they were assimilating the winter solstice holidays to suit the pursuit of strengthening their belief system in the same sort of way that Patrick popularised Christianity in Ireland. That is by adapting what had already evolved to be the predominant cultural focus of a people and their communities, and to manipulate that to be an integral part of what you want it to become. Sure, it could have been the masses who, taking on their new beliefs, adapted them to their old festivals and celebrations. But all this without the drive or influence of those at the head of an organized religious group who would have had the biggest vested interest in controlling the hearts and minds of people? The best part of 2 millennia later and the themes and methodology of controlling powers of religions and states seem to have put to bed much doubt. So moving on, cultural change and through the centuries of developments, we meet with Capitalism and eventually, mass production. At this point, the most powerful ideas being sold are purely of financial implication. Those formerly able to control states (in what is now seen as the developed world) with religious dogma, now have to settle, on the face of things at least, for a control of spirituality. The door to the sale of ideas to the masses is largely in the hands of the corporation and the press. Along comes Coca Cola, and looking for a new marketing campaign, didn’t create, but adapted on an already popular image of the day, that of a popularised American interpretation of a religious figure - St Nicholas – aka Santa. Since that marketing success, Christmas has since become a quirk of the materialistic and consumerist western world. Both taking advantage of as well as adding substance to - as Christianity did - the good nature and goodwill of mankind. Whether that’s a good or bad thing, is an opinion entirely at the judgment of the individual.
So looking around town this weekend, where numerous shops like BHS already have some of their ranges of wrapping, cards, chocolate advent calendars, ornaments, toys and other festive decorations, it’s not so difficult to understand that it’s not really strange at all that we’re being offered such items at this time of year. For these items, which relate to the current convoluted symbols that now help us feel attached to our continued interpretation of an ancient celebration, are our link to our ancestors and to their hopes, fears and optimism relating to the natural cycle of our planet. For that, it is likely there will always be demand. As is the case in Britain and Ireland, where power and heat is largely taken for granted all year round. A sense of connection with the seasons, even though it may only be a case of whether it is dark when we wake. Or our sense of community within our families and with others. Still brings even the most secular of us to understand that Christmas, aka x-mass, the Winter Solstice, aka the winter holidays, is whatever we want to make of it. If that’s led people to wish to prepare for it 3 months early, then there doesn’t seem much harm. People and this celebration have been manipulated for a very long time but when we look back at what Christmas has been, Christmas only matters in what it means to you.
Personally I see a Christmas shop, even at this time of year, and it makes me smile. It gives me a sense of excitement and warmth as I recall and relate it to many fond memories. Sure, I’m as confused by the desire to sell or buy Christmas themed goods so early as I am by the Church and religious groups who advertise that we should remember ‘the real meaning of Christmas’ each year.
So, the PLC’s might have their foot in the Christmassy door first, the Church won’t be that far behind, but when it comes to the time when the traditions and festivities are played out this year, it will adapt to whatever we each make it. Hopefully the more hopeful and forward looking ethos, of those who first gathered and instigated a celebration (for whatever their reasons), will shine through.
In the meantime, there’s a good chunk of this year left to live. I for one intend to make the most of it before I even start to contemplate any major Christmas related plans. Time to put the Snowman back on ice.