It’s cold, it’s grey, and most of the leaves have turned into a slimy underfoot hummus which, at best, hides mud; at worst, detonates little explosions of dog turds over boots and wheels whenever we venture outdoors.
What we need is something to look forward to. Something to brighten the eyes and the spirits; a splash of colour against the backdrop of long nights and dreary days. If only someone would come up with a lovely winter festival, which would distract us until it was almost time to think of spring again. Something to occupy us, something to plan for and look forward to. If only…
I’m a Christian, so Christmas means a lot to me and I’m a bit biased, but (and rest assured, this is not a submarine plea to Remember the Real Meaning of Christmas) faith and spirituality aside, I do think that the church played a blinder with Advent. Whichever pagan festivals the feast of Christmas came to incorporate, preceding it with a four week teaser, drawing the attention of the faithful onwards (and upwards) through the dark days of December with not only the message of the coming of Christ but the promise of a jolly old knees-up too, must have done wonders for morale when people were living through the gloom of a Northern winter. Can you imagine how interminable it must have all felt, in those wilderness Dark Ages, before the dawn of electric lights and Strictly Come Dancing?
Of course, I’m being facetious. It’s not an original point, I know, but I do think that anticipation and delayed gratification have a role to play in ultimate enjoyment (no, don’t worry, I’m not going where you think I’m going) and that we’re missing out somehow these days.
Talking about the commercialisation of Christmas is old hat. Yes, wouldn’t we all love to go back to some soft-focus past, where a tin train and a wooden-cheeked doll bought on Christmas Eve would be the fulfillment of the children’s wildest dreams, and a shared satsuma would constitute a family feast. I’d be happier, though, if Christmas could be allowed just to happen at Christmas, instead of trying to seduce us while the winter is yet young, with all the subtlety of a cider-fuelled 16 year old launching into his first snog.
Seeing adverts of Christmas dinners in the early part of November isn’t exciting. It isn’t tantalising. It’s not (to flirt once again with the Metaphor That Dares Not Speak Its Name) going to get me in the mood. I want to be enticed, beguiled; won over almost against my will. I want to see snowflakes out of the corner of my eye; to glimpse tinsels and baubles and glitter just out of sight, not have to wade through them from Hallowe’en onwards. I want to let the idea of Christmas grow on me, playing the coquette, revealing itself in stages – not flaunting full-frontal when we’ve barely got beyond first name terms.
This is where I think the church had the right idea. Lighting another candle week by week on the Advent wreath? Advent calendars (with or without chocolates) which count down the days? Seasonal carols, and readings which draw us into a story, so that Christmas morning feels like a cause for joy and celebration (as well as a D-Day of planning and cooking)? Yes please. They may not have a tremendous grounding in Scripture, but they sure as heck help Christmas go with a bang when it finally, er, happens.
So come on, Asda, Morrisons et al. I know you were hammered last year for the content of your Christmas adverts, but here’s another thought altogether. Put it away, for a little while longer at least. You know, we’re weary (and Lord knows, we’re only going to get wearier). Why not try a little tenderness instead?