I really like Christmas. As Tim Minchin sings, it's sentimental, I know, but I just really like it.
People just seem a bit softer at this time of year, with some of their rougher edges smoothed off a little bit as they prepare to spend a bit of time away from work and with their families, eating and drinking too much and watching crap telly.
I like the cold, dark nights and the warm, convivial atmospheres as people get together with their friends, families and colleagues to bring some light into the darkest part of the year.
What I don't like, though, is "Christmas"... the brightly packaged thing that people -- retailers in particular -- want us to consume in order to make them more money. This "Christmas" starts to appear around September-time, when shops begin to put out their seasonal offering; earlier and earlier every year because of the apparently logical thought that, if this is their most profitable time of the year, then it can't start soon enough, can it? I work for a retailer, and it never fails to amaze me how people moan about how Christmas shopping is starting later and later every year... meaning that most people don't really start buying presents until December. Which is normal, right?
I've been working in-store most of the last week, and it struck me as I was loading shelves on Friday afternoon that I was listening to the same, shoddy seasonal playlist that is played everywhere, and I was unpacking pretty much the same gift sets that we were selling last year... Christmas is about more than this, isn't it? ...and no, I'm not expecting any presents from Jesus.
Don't get me wrong: we sell some pretty good gifts... it's just that if you bought them for your brother and your sister and your mum last year and the year before that, why on earth would we expect you to keep on buying them now? Especially when the internet has opened up a whole world of small, boutique designers just waiting to sell you something interesting and possibly personalised. Perhaps we think that hearing Wham and Shakin' Stevens on a loop will somehow hypnotise people into auto-pilot, buying this stuff because they always buy this stuff. It sort of works, but it's diminishing returns, surely?
Or maybe this is the Christmas that people actually want: wearing crappy jumpers and cheap Santa hats and reindeer antlers as we tramp around the shops like zombies listening to the same playlist of fifteen songs everywhere we go and buying Aunty Doris the Soap and Glory gift set for the tenth year in a row. The annual excitement over the big shops' Christmas advertising on the telly would seem to indicate we really like this shit. Why on earth are we wasting brain space getting excited about the John Lewis advert or whether the Sainsburys one is better? Who cares? You know they just want you to buy stuff, right?
But, in spite of all of this, I do love this time of year. It's the winter solstice tonight, and the night is the longest it will be all year.... but I prefer to look on the bright side and to think about lighter times to come. The daytime tomorrow will be three seconds longer, and that's a start... isn't it?
Whatever 2016 has been for you, there are lighter days ahead.
same old songs, every single year? Well, my favourite seasonal songs are these ones:
Tracey Thorn - "joy"
Smith & Burrows - "this ain't new jersey"
Emmy the Great & Tim Wheeler - "home for the holidays"
Joni Mitchell - "river"
Tim Minchin - "white wine in the sun"