Yesterday I spent a very enjoyable Christmas with friends. We exchanged small gifts, played music together, enjoyed delicious food and drink and some great conversation. It was all very low-key and for some reason it reminded me of Christmases I enjoyed when I was young and life was perhaps just a wee bit simpler.
In 1890, George Bernard Shaw described Christmas as “an atrocious institution” where “We must be gluttonous because it is Christmas. We must be insincerely generous; we must buy things that nobody wants…”. Whilst not quite as cynical about the festive season, I do share some of his negativism, as I am sure many others do.
At dinner last night, talk turned to the excess of Christmas and the overwhelming pressure that many feel to have the “Best Christmas Ever”. There’s the story this year of a mother of three, who had spent over £2000 on over 350 presents for her children, surely an example of consumer extremism if ever there was one. The excess of food and drink that is bought in the supermarket scrums as if Armageddon is due to start on Boxing Day, presents that you give to those who don’t really need them and all this in a time of austerity with the gap between the rich and poor wider than it has ever been.
Maybe it’s not the day itself, which for me was a most enjoyable experience, but the interminable build-up. You can’t miss the nauseating music in shops or the gaudy flashing lights, the endless TV adverts and the whole thing thrust down your throat. The Dome in Edinburgh’s George Street had its decorations up at the end of October this year long before a firework was lit or an apple dooked for.
Anyhoo – enough.
Many of these thoughts occurred to me on a wonderful Christmas Eve walk I had along Edinburgh’s Union Canal, through the Meadows down through the Grassmarket before walking up the West Port and retracing my steps along the canal. Apart from the small gifts I had for my friends (and those were more thank-you for inviting me to dinner than Christmas presents), I didn’t give any others. However, I did make a point of giving money to the homeless people I passed on my walk who need a hand and a kind word far more than any of my family and friends do.