We are at that junction of the years when it is time to gather the strands of the family once more; to weave back together the hems that have frayed, re-kindle the flames that have guttered or died: for those who can be with us will know our hearth will welcome them, and those who cannot (sorry, Uncle Francis, but we couldn’t make bail for you this Christmas) can be sure of our thoughts and prayers.
There is coming a day when all of us who thought we could cook are going to be proved wrong, and those of us who thought we could hold our drink are going to confirm what our friends and family already knew. A morning approaches when normally well-behaved potatoes will emerge charcoal-black from the oven, parsnips will remain resolute no matter for how long we roast them, and the dining table we are extending to its full length for the first time will become unaccountably collapsible beneath the weight of a turkey. That we should overeat is predictable, even mandatory, just as the afternoon when the ghost of the well-piled plate must haunt us and the need for an extra bathroom is proven once again.
For Christmas is a time of joy, and let no-one waiting at number fifty-nine in the queue for the checkout at Walmart doubt it. Smile, for this is only the first of a hundred times your children will prove how many orifices they possess and demonstrate how many they can utilize at once. Smile, for it is the season of goodwill: the driver coming towards you on your side of the road is not a homicidal maniac, but simply drunk.
It is hard, sitting by the fire on Christmas morning watching the young ones savaging the wrapping on the year’s winter blackmail installment, to reflect upon the true meaning of Christmas. Perhaps the Internet has made us too wise: we know that Jesus was not born on 25th December, but more probably around the end of September (making him a Libra, possibly. Sounds sensible, doesn’t it?) just as we know that even the year is wrong, because he was most likely conceived around 4-5 BC. The Immaculate Conception of Mary doesn’t hold up in our minds any more than we can accept that Father Christmas somehow manages to pop out of several billion chimneys all on the same night. So if all the myths have imploded, what is it about Christmas that makes it the biggest occasion in our year?
The answer, I think, lies in roots far deeper than the Christian feast. Since time immemorial the winter solstice has been a time to come out of hibernation – to honor the gods of the land and seek their beneficence for another year, ostensibly, but more probably as an excuse for everyone to enjoy themselves before ice and snow clamped them inside their houses, awaiting the thaws of spring. It used to be known as Yule: when the Christians overlaid it with their celebration it evolved into Christ’s Mass, and it never claimed historical accuracy; it was just a good time to celebrate.
So we do. We join in applauding the good things in life, which may mean food, or gifts, or friends. It is a chance to show ourselves as we really are. Relationships initiated here and in the New Year will come to fruition in the spring. We may satisfy our need to perform Christian duty by prayer, or, more practically by acts of charity. It is a time to remember those less fortunate than we.
However you celebrate, I raise a glass to you. I wish you a very happy and fulfilling Christmas and a brave New Year. For now, I must let my blogging pen rest. See you in 2015!