Should We Know It’s Christmas Time?
Éamonn Grennan and Gemma Kent debate on whether Christmas countdowns are starting too early.
A mood killer, a commercial ploy, an premature heralding of what should be a time of family, friends, reunions, goodwill and relaxation – these are all things I’d associate with Christmas starting as soon as November 1st comes around, and all we hear is Wham! and Frank Sinatra on Red FM. What’s seldom is wonderful, and obviously there is a time and place for everything
When I was 8 I’d start writing letters to Santa around August. Most of us loved toys at that stage and we hated having to wait for them. The idea of premeditating what I’d get for Christmas, along with the food – so large an outlier in the admittedly great everyday food we’d get at home – and the ‘deadly’ movies I’d get to see and tape on VCR, were all too good for a child to wait for. Words were had, with an exhausted mum and an irritable brother, that it wasn’t healthy or right to wait so long for such a short time of the year to roll around.
You’d miss far too much of what made the autumn change and winter build-up so special – you’d lose an appreciation for what everyday life brings in the months prior.
Obviously it’s not as drastic as ignoring everything non-Christmas had to offer, but in short, it wasn’t what a little boy should be getting worked up about. Something here translates to what a lot of people associate with Christmas – days off, no work, family, love, time to reflect on a great year and celebrate, or a middling one and see what went wrong. Such feelings of gratitude and happiness should absolutely be present in everyday life, not just the end of December, and while it’s understandable people start their Christmas countdowns early and covet what it brings, it’s not a crutch to rely on when everything will be candy canes and Celebration boxes. All year we should find time for these traits and actions that improve us, and it should just be highlighted at Christmas.
Another reason Christmas has prematurely kicked off so early is the understandable workings of everyday commerce and business in Ireland and other countries. Christmas equals presents, rich food, decorations and trips, which in turn equals sales and revenue, which equal heavier advertising at an earlier time of the year. It’s understandable – what self-respecting business person doesn’t like seeing their venture thrive while others cash in? In the grand scheme of things, you’re unlikely to see this side of premature Christmas disappear, but I think at least leaving any shopping to a ‘sweet spot’ time, i.e. in December, but before any last minute stress-dash to the city centre, works so well for the mood.
All times of the year should be celebrated in varied amounts, and I don’t think it’s such a Grinch-like thing, or even a begrudging quibble, to reserve times of the year for their own special aesthetics or mood. The Christmas ethos is what’s beautiful, and it’s that we should be celebrating year-round, not the lights or trees or tinsel, or the – admittedly class – music.
It’s not easy playing devil’s advocate, especially when the most wonderful time of the year is now just one month away. And yes, I know, the vast majority of people cringe at the mention of Christmas ‘so soon’ in the year, but in writing this piece I’ve tried to sympathize with those who advocate a one- to three-month long celebration of what is now a hugely secular consumer holiday.
For one thing, Christmas is a time that encourages selfless acts and mindfulness towards other people. We donate more to charity; we visit the elderly; we seek out long-estranged relatives and bring them home.
Christmas acts like the antidote for what are becoming progressively tougher and tougher years — force your mind back to 2016, and you can imagine the raging demand for peace-on-earth by the time December rolled around. The same could be said for this year, too, in the wake of terrorism and the fallout of Trump’s election. And sure, one could say that we ought to practice such charitable acts all year round; that basic human decency, like cute puppies, is not just for Christmas. The crux is, however, that if you take this statement as true then you have backed yourself into the corner of presumably having to support the elongating of Christmas as well: because if Christmas was all year long, then wouldn’t charity be, too?
Extending Christmas is also becoming a great way to deal with climate change — albeit kind of ironically because Christmas is surely responsible for a hell of a lot of waste, both in packaging and in food. Notwithstanding that, Christmas is a good way to, as my dad always chimes when I bemoan the holiday, “break up the long winter”. The days get darker come Halloween, and the dreamy atmosphere that comes with Christmas is one that fills this darkness with literal light (again, kind of sucking the life out of our planet, but hey, we’re already doomed anyway. Ho ho ho!). As your breath fogs before you and you dread the arrival of the heating bill, the food bill and the re-runs of Home Alone, Christmas and its lights put up a neat blockade against the cold and dreary, and transform the season of death and decay into something warm and fuzzy.
There’s another legitimate reason to get going early on Christmas, and it, like every other argument for the motion I’ve given, is only a little bit tongue-in-cheek. Our culture today is bent on never slowing down, and Christmas, once a time to stop and regroup come the end of the year, has certainly morphed into the most stressful time for some (we love you, Mam!). That being said, the fact that we are always moving towards our next big break means that once Christmas Day has come and gone, the big hullabaloo is over. Before you know it, ad breaks once filled with jolly-bellied bearded men are swapped out for your women-only-gym advocates in their camisoles and leggings and it’s back to the old grind, after a brief and mandatory: 3! 2! 1! With this in mind, Christmas only really gets to last two months, and that’s not at all that long, seeing as summer in this country (at least what we call ‘summer’) can last over four months. I will not pretend to have a reason to validate Christmas displays going up sooner than late October, however; such an act is unforgivable even at the holiest time of the year.
My final reason to support the inevitable extension of Christmas is, well, just that: because it’s inevitable. As long as capitalism reigns supreme, Christmas will go on being marketed to death months and months ahead of time, and our compulsion to buy-buy-buy will continue to prove that strategy effective. You want Christmas to stop coming early? Fight the adverts and fight the ideology that underlies them. Tell the big Christmas pushers like Brown Thomas and Tesco to shut up or shut down. Tell them that Christmas starts when YOU say it starts. Otherwise, just buckle up and enjoy the sleigh ride. It’s Christmas after all, and there are bigger turkeys to cook than a holiday that gives you time off work and a chance to get free stuff from relatives.