Belfast Telegraph

Friday 19 December 2014

The essence of Christmas 2007

This Christmas... is a desperate Blair, back after performing for the cameras in Iraq, still searching for his legacy and fearing he has just visited it.

It is Bertie Ahern on a high in the polls just being himself. It is charities everywhere in overdrive. It is a national fund-raiser for the homeless which has an address in Ipswich.

It is the Republic at last coming to terms with the price of the Celtic Tiger, with the pace being set by RTE's Prime Time, which mercilessly unveils the murky side of the freebooting property world down south. It is the politically correct fanatics of Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals Trust outlawing ties for doctors in Brighton, claiming they are a health risk; and rushing to include bow ties also on the absurd ground that they too are a magnet to MRSA. It is their patients wondering how long it is since they swept the floor under the beds.

It is easyJet coming in and Ryanair going out. This Christmas is fluid in permitted bottles and doubled airline taxes from the Chancellor, but considered worth it at this time of year. It is the slowdown on the Sydenham bypass and the flash of the headlamps as you seek to merge from the airport slip road. It is the thousands of close-shaven US Marines Christmas shopping at Shannon, on their way home - thankfully - from Baghdad to Chatanooga and Rapid City.

This Christmas is Kate in pillarbox red and a fetching black, off-the-face big hat at Sandhurst, shaping up to be Queen one day. It is her man, William, passing out. It is his granny's smile as she passes him in the ranks. This Christmas is a memorial service in St Peter's, Copstock, the Ipswich suburb, for five Marys of Magdala, tragic detritus of the consumer society, the pathos deepened by the time of year.

It is Blair entertaining unwanted visitors from Scotland Yard in Number 10. It is his minions seeking to hide the bad news behind the renewed din over Diana. It is the dredging up of the remoter past, when obesity was not a crime, with Mrs Beeton's recipe for Christmas pudding: half a pound of (moist) sugar, half a pound of finely chopped suet, four eggs, a teaspoon of salt, a wineglass of brandy, fruits galore ...

It is the 1812 overture requested on Classic FM. It is fund-raisers exploiting the hunger for significance on the air: ("I'll give you a tenner for just a mention ...") It is a satin dress on an expensive waif in a Sunday magazine, priced at £1,090 (matching belt, £160) and wondering who buys it. It is a black and cream knitted coat at £1,645. It is society afloat upon a sea of alcohol ("So many wines to choose from, yet so little time - but help is at hand with our essential guide... so long as you don't overdo it").

It is random breath-testing. It is taxis not to be seen. It is big Christmas cards not fitting into the new letter size. It is affluence at its apotheosis with the injunction to 'give your cat something special this Christmas... finest cuts of chicken in this exclusive wrapping paper'. It is adopting a Galapagos sealion pup,

'And you don't have to go anywhere near the shops...'

This Christmas is the well-heeled shopping in New York, where the pound is within a whisker of two dollars. It is guilt over plenty, for guilt amid all the indulgence is the charities' secret weapon: is not this their big month? It is kids, pushed prematurely into adolescence, reverting briefly to tradition as clients of Santa Claus, indulging the excitement of opening parcels and sucking sticky sweetmeats. It is their grandparents appalled at the price of electronic toys.

It is, indeed, the old, hoping against hope for the survival of a little of the magic they remember from more homespun days way back. They find it in the sublime chorus of cathedral choirs. They hear it in Laudate Dominum with Catherine Jenkins. This Christmas is Wal-Mart, American parent of Asda UK, rediscovering Christmas by enjoining staff that, after all, it would be nice if they wished customers a Merry Christmas, rather than the inane " happy holidays".

This Christmas is the mild backlash against the politically correct excision of Christianity from greetings cards. But it is big organisations still sending out meaningless corporate cards, carefully swept clean of any acknowledgement of the reason they exist at all. At base, though, it is the reunion of secular man and woman with the annual feast of a theology many of them now know next to nothing about, but which they are surprised to find still has the old power to speak to their condition. And a very happy Christmas to you all.

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