Monday, 7 December 2015

Festive cheer by Bill Kirton

Oh yes, once again it’s Festivities Time – fun, feasts, frolics, and lots of other things beginning with ‘f’.  So I’m allowing myself a wee festive aside. Mari Biella has already offered her reactions to it all, so this is a sort of counterpoint to hers.

First, though, 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 and the latest PS4s and IPads is on his way. A curmudgeonly cynic like myself is less impressed with it all but I’m genuinely pleased 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 me’. I was the guy wandering amongst all the ever-so-jolly adverts, listening to 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. (In fact, one December, as I was walking into a store, a complete stranger said to me ‘Cheer up, it’ll soon be over’.)

Then, lo, it came to pass (many years ago, actually) that the scales fell from my eyes and I realised what I’d known all along – that it’s actually the festival of Godot.

Waiting for Godot is about all sorts of things. It’s bleak and yet very funny, simultaneously theatrical and anti-theatrical, and it sums up marvellously how we live our lives. I really do want everyone who reads this (and everyone else, for that matter), 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, for me at least, that’s what makes Christmas really interesting. 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. Great! Terrific! My 'inner 6-year-old' (© Mari Biella) loves it.

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 fascinating Waiting for Godot lives and, although it’s not about Christmas, it does encapsulate the season.

I’d love to quote all of it but I won’t because for an unbeliever its truth may seem uncomfortable, and for a believer it would make no sense. Its opening lines set the tone:
Always too eager for the future, we
Pick up bad habits of expectancy.
Something is always approaching; every day
Till then we say,

Watching from a bluff the tiny, clear
Sparkling armada of promises draw near.

But, of course:
it never anchors; it's
No sooner present than it turns to past.

And no, I’m not just being a miserable old bugger. I’m having a good time (despite the opinion of that stranger). 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 secretly applaud the naked, smiling acquisitiveness of the older ones who’ve learned how to work the system. And I actually think it’s a shame that, in the USA, political correctness has emasculated the bluff, complex cheer of ‘Merry Christmas’ and substituted for it the bland ‘Happy Holidays’.

But I really, really do want everyone (of all faiths or none) to have a great time. So Happy Christmas to all, and Happy Tuesdays, Happy Octobers, Happy late afternoons.


Jan Needle said...

Mister Albert? Mister Albert?


And a merry xbox to you too, you old curmudgeon

Fran B said...

I like the anticipation factor too, Bill, maybe because I'm a Sagitarian ( not that I believe in astrology at all). We are ' always travelling but never arriving' and my favourite classic author is Robert Louis Stevenson. He famously said ' to travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive'. Though perhaps his donkey would not have agreed!

Mari Biella said...

I never made a connection between Christmas and Waiting for Godot, Bill, but actually that does make a lot of sense! The anticipation is such that the eventual reality is bound to be something of a disappointment. Not that we should let that stop us, of course...

Have a happy Christmas anyway, and a happy whatever-time-it-may-be (and thanks for the mention!)

Bill Kirton said...

Thanks all. More specifically...

Jan, I've no idea what you're on about.

Fran, the other favourite quote which might be appropriate here is the Browning one about 'a man's reach should exceed his grasp'.

Mari, I'm all for getting pleasure out of the anticipation and even the let-down.

Lydia Bennet said...

I love Christmas and don't see any need to feel weird about the religion which annexed our ancient traditions. It's magical. Santa Claus exists and so do elves! Enjoy your anticipation Bill! I've got the Jacqui Lawson animated Advent Calendar and it's just wonderful, makes me feel all excited and nostalgic and I look forward to each new day to click. I'd recommend that site anyway for ecards. Enjoy the run-up folks! Godot never gets there but Christmas does, at least on past experience.

Jan Needle said...

No idea, Bill? Well, that's Godot for you, innit!

Bill Kirton said...

Aaargh! Mea definitely culpa, Jan. Oh, the shame of it. I couldn't see the wood for the tree.

Reb MacRath said...

Fine post, Bill, with a great quote from Larkin. But I'm with Valerie on this one. Three cheers for Christmas!

Bill Kirton said...

Lydia, Valerie and Reb - what can I say? Except that this particular white-haired (though beardless) old gentleman wishes you a wonderful season whose happiness persists and keeps on increasing.