What’s Christmas all about? What’s the season about, generally? Our modern celebrations have so much associated with them that it’s difficult to know where to start listing the objects, concepts, ideals, activities and whatnot that you might feel “make Christmas” for anyone, let alone everyone. Holly. Presents. Eggnog. Turkey. Family. Visiting. Sleeping in. Going out.
This year, like any other, I’ve tried to cram a good deal in. I’m as Christmassy as almost anyone I know, so in the absence of my own parents (living in Spain) I spent much of last week with K’s. Don’t get me wrong; it was lovely. But the massed and serried ranks of Christmas things ended up hindering as much as helping: Christmas lunch, while lovely, is only really another big – obscenely big – meal, given the absence of absent friends and the presence of vegetarian secularity; and the desire to do Christmassy activities led to Boxing Day karaoke, which again suffered from the geographical fact of those far away, but especially from the necessity of unreliable and confusing technologies to make the activity – Christmassy, therefore important, therefore necessary – actually happen.
In short, the things that might have been fun, weren’t as fun as the things you don’t even think about: maybe they were Christmassy, but they seemed to miss the mark. What was fun for me boiled down entirely to simply being with members of family, and friends before and after Christmas, setting aside time to spend with them. Bizarrely, the closest I felt all holiday to some kind of mythical ideal of Christmas was when some not-so-close friend of my in-laws came round to drop off some presents and catering bits and pieces, and stayed for a companionable drink. They didn’t like him all that much, and wouldn’t normally have asked him to stay when there was close family present, but… it was Christmas, after all.
There’s a bit from Have yourself a merry little Christmas:
Someday soon, we all will be together—
If the fates allow.
that always reminds me of the scenes in A Christmas Carol, where Scrooge is present at party after party—his nephew’s, the Cratchits’, Fezziwig’s, Belle’s—and the gradual awakening of gladness in his heart both prompts, and is strengthened by, the desire for communion with his family, friends, and fellow man.
This is the light in the darkness, the hope in the despair, the fire we keep burning throughout the solstice. This alone is the nub of the “little Christmas”, the laudable unambitiousness. It’s the clearest, least equivocal good that can shake itself free of all the baggage that comes along with it. It needn’t be perfect, this communion: after all, we have no scriptwriters looking after our Christmas special episodes; so they will always come with spoiled epiphanies, whatever we do. But any season without such communion, will feel flawed somehow; no season with it, however much we flail and fail in our practical application of its ideals, can ever be written off.