Why be Happy when You Could be Normal? by Clare Weiner (Mari Howard)

Church of England Christmas: 
Carols round the Tree
So wrote Janette Winterson, making this quote from her adoptive mother  the title of her autobiography (published in 2012).

“Fast forward” from Thursday 12th December, and we’ve nearly hit Wednesday 25th December, Christmas Day...

As a person who studied social and political science, my involvement with the recent shenanigans in our Parliament has been on alert. For the UK election, the NHS and climate change topped my agenda. And I am unambiguously appalled by the results. On “social media” many of us have shared – not reviled, ranted, or abused, but shared – our distress for our country. We  are not happy. We don’t want to see this as “normal”. Parents of disabled children, people with long-term health problems (like diabetes), people who know through their work the cost in human life and future prospects of child poverty, homelessness, poorly funded education and failing health and mental health services mourned on December 13th. 

Here we all are now – facing the formidable task of putting our collective mind to celebrating Christmas. To wishing others, and having, a Happy Christmas... 

Normal for December

The local shopping centre (what a meme!) has two Christmas trees added to its street furniture, and there are white LED-lighted snowflakes on every lamp post, each backed by purpley-blue LED “sky” background, in order to make it easier for them to be seen. We are burning up energy by day as well as by night here! Food shops are piled high (literally) with tins of biscuits and packets of mince pies. Joints of ham jostle in the cold cabinets. Customers clash trolleys, fighting for the fruit and veg, while shelf fillers rush to fill any emptied sprout, avocado, or you-name-it, space.

Temptation is everywhere – including the temptation to muse on what is this all for? Is this feast of overindulgence relevant in our climate and nature threatened world?

And for many people, Christmas won’t be the peak of happiness, and that’s not weird: some things are normal, and don’t fit into a specific season, or day, designated for happiness, celebration, and indulgence. It’s not wrong. Is Christmas there simply for being jolly – or is it something deeper, drowned in the noise of the buying, the baking, and the general brouhaha?

BBC Woman’s Hour featured How to make your Christmas more Green. Listeners wrote in (quite rightly in a way) to say that making nut roasts by hand, knitting or crafting presents instead of buying, or adorning your house with holly and ivy instead of plastic based tinsel was too time-consuming, and wouldn’t be appreciated. A turkey and roast potatoes are what will be expected. They are probably right in most cases. What makes them happy? One thing is eating the traditional food.

The question is, what exactly defines Christmas?

Home made Dundee cake, just out of the oven...
My own spirit of Christmas past is long gone and irretrievable. It’s simplicity. It’s long-awaitedness. We and most people around us only bought and decorated our tree on Christmas eve. For me, that was always a trip with my Dad to buy the tree, and then an afternoon decorating it. With the Carols from King’s playing on the radio.
Tea that day was always with homemade Dundee cake (almonds on the top), as December 24th was my father’s birthday. There was a particularly bright star (or planet) in the sky, and my mother, whose father was an amateur astronomer, would point it out as the “star of Bethlehem”.

There were stockings from Father Christmas, always containing the Brownie or Guide diary, chocolate coins, pencils and those small plastic puzzles where you had to line up numbers or make words with tiny slidable tiles. Christmas lunch was roast chicken (with sprouts of course) and a homemade Christmas pudding. My mother always joined with her sister smoking a cigarette (her once yearly indulgence as she had really given up), with coffee and chocolates as we opened presents.

Job done, back in the 1960s. Happiness achieved. The best Christmas was 1962-3 when the snow began on Boxing Day and lasted for the next two and a bit months. We slid downhill on tea trays like kids in an Enid Blyton novel. And back at school there was no hockey for weeks!
Three kids and a wheel of ice...
My children’s favourite Christmas was the one we spent in Canada, where the snow was already in place as we joined the Christmas Eve service in the local town. It was still there, very much there, in late January when we returned to Oxford. We had become used to the black squirrels performing acrobatics in the leafless trees in our back yard as we ate breakfast that winter, and marvelled at a huge wheel of ice which formed on top of the garden table. Canada was a winter wonderland, and they very soon forgot the boring hour long stop, sitting cramped in the car in a traffic jam on the 401 route to Toronto when we had been to the museum!

Presents aside, what’s essential for a traditional Christmas for children has come to mean snow – so maybe the whimsy of “See amid the winter’s snow” and “In the bleak midwinter”, unrealistic as they are, is at least good PR for it. It's not normal. But, for a happy one? It is free...

Happy Holidays…     


Jan Needle said…
Good piece! Thanks and have a good holiday
Mmmmmm, can I have a virtual slice of that Dundee cake? Looks delicious!

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