Belfast Telegraph

Fionola Meredith: We need to make Christmas a children-only celebration to cut out the hype and hysteria

Fionola Meredith has had enough of the forced communal jollity - and she has the perfect antidote

Making Christmas just about younger people may be unworkable, but desirable, for many of us
Making Christmas just about younger people may be unworkable, but desirable, for many of us
Fionola Meredith

By Fionola Meredith

I'd like to cancel Christmas," said my friend. "Just get rid of it. Bin it. Ban it." I reeled in surprise. After all, this is the great unsayable of the festive season. We're all supposed to be "simply having a wonderful Christmas time", or "wishing it could be Christmas every day", aren't we?

The ancient 1970s songs by Slade and sugar-sickly TV adverts with copious amounts of fake stardust and wistful children hammer us into submission. The compulsory communal jollity is like a totalitarian state. No dissent is allowed.

Oh sure, you can puff a bit about the stress of it: as usual, there are endless newspaper and magazine articles telling you how to keep calm under the pressure of having such a gloriously perfect Christmas.

But that's the most you'll get away with. Any more than that and you'll be derided as a killjoy, a party pooper, a spoilsport, or just a miserable old sod. Some public-spirited person will wrestle you into a reindeer-themed Christmas jumper - for your own good.

My friend is no Scrooge, not even a hint of the Grinch about him. Nor is he a pinch-lipped Puritan. In fact, he's one of the warmest, wisest, most compassionate human beings I know. He simply thinks that too many people lose the run of themselves at Christmas, regressing into over-grown, over-excited children, getting carried away by out-of-control sentimentality or maudlin reminiscences.

After Boxing Day is over, they return to their normal selves and start behaving like adults again. The madness has passed.

Whisper it, but I'm inclined to agree. Christmas, as a cultural phenomenon, is terrifying. It really is like a form of collective insanity. Ordinary life is abandoned and glitter-sprinkled hype takes over.

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People spend lunatic amounts of cash, even getting themselves dangerously into debt, on lavish presents that might not even be wanted or needed by the recipients. They work themselves into a sweaty lather to create a magically Instagramable festive paradise in their homes, so that the whole world can envy what an ideal life they have.

I don't believe this has a lot to do with love or generosity or peace to all mankind.

As for celebrating the birth of Christ - you must be joking. Who was he again? The one born in a stable or something, ages ago?

Today's Christmas celebrations tend to be about conspicuous consumption, competitiveness and rampant commercialism. They' are a giant selection box filled with tooth-rottingly sweet confectionery and little of substance.

This year, the misery of Brexit, a bitterly divided country and a depressing winter election campaign seems to have made the retreat from reality into Christmas mania even more pronounced.

But are we really enjoying it? A study by the American Psychological Association found that 38% of people said their stress level increases during the season. I'd say that's a conservative estimate.

You even see it in the way people drive. They're so addled by the pressures of Christmas, they dart and swerve or sit fuming and honking in queues of traffic, each car filled with similarly crazed occupants, desperate to get to the shops to get that perfect Santa onesie for great-uncle Joe, without which the Big Day would be incomplete.

I wonder how many secret Christmas sceptics - and there are more of us than you'd think - would actually choose to cancel it, if we could?

"Maybe we don't need to ban Christmas altogether," smiled my friend. "That might be a bit extreme. But why don't we make it a festival just for young children? Under 10s only. They're the ones it should really be all about."

Now that's a great idea. The fake magic that people are so desperately trying to recreate is essentially a throwback to childhood, when Christmas truly was a time filled with mystery and awe.

Remember the wide-eyed excitement of being tucked up in bed on Christmas Eve, listening for Santa's bells? That wriggly feeling of joy and anticipation is what many people fondly recall about childhood Christmases, rather than the gifts themselves. If Christmas was a children-only celebration, rather than a hysterical riot of adults behaving like children, it would cut out so much of the hype and nonsense.

And it needn't involve showering the kids with more gifts than they know what to do with.

It would mean creating experiences where they get to feel that tremendous sense of wonder, possibility and imagination that is unique to childhood - and that's something that money can't buy.

All this is nothing more than a fantasy, of course. Contemporary Christmas, with all its crazy excesses, is too powerful to defeat.

But we can dream, can't we?

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