I had hoped I'd be organised enough to write some book posts between Christmas and going to spend time with family over New Year, but with only Christmas Day and Boxing Day off work, I've not managed to organise myself. It doesn't help that I've not been thinking about books at all, but a lot about what this time of year means, and represents, to me.
Like many people I find Christmas Day itself challenging, and whilst I used to enjoy the run up to Christmas, the current challenging retail environment makes that a big ask - and it's a shame. I like winter, the cold and the dark don't particularly bother me, but I feel increasingly separated from what I think should be the natural rhythm of the year, and it bothers me.
I've mostly spent the last ten days at work listening to people complain. Complain because some item they want is unavailable, complain about how much things cost, complain about how much effort it is to make things*. A small amount of effort is a good thing. As autumn turns into winter I've found Making mince meat, Christmas cakes, Christmas puddings, chutney something to look forward too**. I love the way the kitchen smells when I do these things, the slow pace they demand which lets me listen to the radio, read a bit, potter around, make lists, plan things, and most of all think about the people I'll be sharing this stuff with. That, to me, is the point of Christmas - a time to share, in the dead of winter, when community matters the most.
It's not just for December either - it's the light at the end of the tunnel of dark days, so gentle preparations from the point the clocks go back seem sensible to me. The way advent is celebrated in the colder parts of Europe makes perfect sense as well, and surely Christmas itself lasts until 12th night? And yes, if it was up to me there would be far more time off for everyone around now. One of the things I miss most about working at Oddbins is how slack January was as everyone swore off the booze for the first few weeks of the new year. However cold it could be in that shop (it could be very cold, we were meant to leave the doors open) and dull without a constant stream of customers, it meant time to re-charge, to gossip, drink endless cups of tea, skive a little, and tidy up.
There's a reason too that this is traditionally a time for ghost stories. The older I get the more Christmas becomes about the people who aren't here anymore. Which in turn stirs up all sorts of things (there are always tears in our house at Christmas because we all pitch up tired and on edge, sometimes it's a good thing, sometimes not). Sharing the sort of ghost stories that replace the genuine fears that lurk in the dark (fear of being cold, hungry, a lack of basic security) with ones you can begin to laugh at suddenly seems like a good idea.
Mostly though, and I know I'm middle aged when I say things like this, I miss the sense of general goodwill that I used to find at this time of year, which increasingly seems to have been replaced with a sullen sense of entitlement (retail makes you hate people). I'm not sure why anyone thinks it's okay to berate a shop assistant over an unavailable cake until they cry, but I've seen it done, and more than once. A little genuine goodwill and kindness goes a long way, so too, unfortunately, does ill will. Be nice to people, especially strangers. It's dark, and cold, everyone is dealing with crap, so why make it worse?
All of which is why I rather prefer 'Seasons Greetings' to 'Happy Christmas' - it covers so much more. And on that note - I'll be back in the New Year.
*Mulled wine, mince pies, and Buck's Fizz are top of this list, none of which require any particular effort. I might add that the threat to go to Marks & Spencer's instead is something I'm more inclined to view as a promise (just go), and seriously, how is opening a bottle of orange juice, or even squeezing an orange (god forbid) more effort than getting in a car, driving to another retailer, finding a parking space, searching for the product in question, and then queuing to pay for it?
**I like doing these things, I know not everyone does, and there's no earthly reason why they should.