There is little people here enjoy so much as a good moan and nothing excites our misanthropic, perpetually dissatisfied souls than the advent of the season of goodwill.
The minute the first inflatable Santa hits the high street, out come the armies of whining, joyless naysayers declaring that Christmas comes too early, that it’s lost its spirit, that it’s merely a backdrop for family breakdown.
It must be a buzz for this lot to spot that first bauble — they know the season of clogging up radio phone-ins, buses and supermarket queues with complaints about the state of the nation has well and truly begun.
It’s a disease peculiar to these parts, this propensity to respond to an invitation to cheer up with a scowl. This week, in the Lancashire town of Penwortham, community police teams have been handing out postcards to be affixed to front doors and windows warning approaching carol singers to sling their sparkly hook.
I’ve already had conversations with two taxi drivers who believe that shops should be banned from referring to Christmas until the week before December 25. Last week the BBC conducted a phone-in asking whether in this recession year it would be better to cancel Christmas completely. Many callers thought it would. I can’t think of anything worse. And it says many unpleasant things about our national character that so many of us profess to hate a time of such promise and beauty.
For me Christmas is a time of warmth in a season of freezing temperatures. It’s about log fires in pubs, outdoor ice-rinks surrounded by hot choc-drinking onlookers, and twinkling Christmas markets heating up the frosty air with the aroma of candied almonds and mulled wine.
As soon as the clocks turn back at the end of October and the nights get darker, colder and wetter, I begin to pine for fairy lights to brighten the gloom like a sprinkling of SAD lights across the country. Imagine a British winter without a couple of months of illuminated town centres, excited bouncing children, and brightly wrapped gifts. Like being tied up in Jack Dee’s murky underground bunker whilst being forcefed a diet of gruel and Crimewatch, it would surely be interminable, intolerable torture.
It’s popular to lament the commercialisation of Christmas and its loss of ‘meaning’, by which people usually mean Jesus-related spin. But December 25 was a pagan festival before it was commandeered by Christians and randomly declared the date of the birth of Christ.
And anyway, there’s no question that the churches capitalise on the commercially-funded PR that has made Christmas such a huge event in the western calendar; if you want God at Christmas, there’s no shortage of ways to vent your jubilation. Those collection bowls runneth over with every extra carol service and midnight mass — even if standing room only means you have to praise Him without the comfort of a soft seat.
It’s true that retailers milk Christmas but I have no sympathy for the mother who complains it’s exploitation that forces her to treat each of her children to their own personal copy of Modern Warfare 2, as one woman I met today was doing. That’s not being exploited, it’s being stupid.
And it’s true that families fall out on Christmas day but the day itself isn’t really the point — as with so many things in life, it’s the thrill of anticipation that’s important. That’s what gets us through the winter — even those grumpy old sods who thinks hell is tinsel, turkey and other people.