OPINION: The Christmas tree is up and I’m forging on with my festive plans

Putting his Christmas tree up early is an act of defiance against 2020, says James. Picture: Getty I

Putting his Christmas tree up early is an act of defiance against 2020, says James. Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Columnist James Marston says it’s full steam ahead for Christmas

I’ve got six coming. I’ve got the menu planned and a rough outline of the day in my mind. Others tell me, that unlike the other 364 days of the year, it won’t be the same without sprouts, and my sister Claire – she’s the one who wants to marry an octogenarian farmer with 4,000 acres and a weak pulse, preferably before the roll out of any vaccine, tells me she’s already got a pudding and is making a decision on crackers soon.

It is, of course, Christmas that I am talking about – and despite the murmurings this week that lockdown might have to be extended to include December 25 I’m confident of a relaxation of the rules, if necessary.

This is because, if there is no lockdown let up, people will simply ignore the restrictions and gather in each other’s houses anyway. And once the rules have been ignored once they are easy to ignore once again.

So I’m looking forward and forging on with my plans, we’ve already given up enough this year, so much so that I have already put up my tree and have a box in a spare bedroom with some Newberry fruits, a bag of nuts and some dates ready for the big day.

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My sister tells me that, alongside the sprouts – I can’t bear them – crackers, dates, nuts, cheesy ball things, and a “glasses of champagne on arrival”, she’ll be lighting a Christmas pudding and have I got any brandy. I was sorely tempted to say I could do with a brandy what with the shocking cost of meeting her expectations, but instead I couldn’t help thinking that Christmas does seem to go hand in hand with all sorts of strange traditions doesn’t it?

Indeed it seems to me Christmas often includes the eating of certain foods and acting out certain rituals year after year; a change from the routine, a denial of the traditional, can make or break a Christmas Day.

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My family, aside from setting fire to a pudding in what I suspect to be a quasi-replication of a Victorian tradition we have seen on TV, marks Christmas with other traditions such as The Queen’s speech and games.

I don’t know when this started but it is strange that perfectly sane people suddenly resort to board games or charades or whatever on December 25 – at almost no other time of the year do we indulge in a game of Cluedo after a huge meal in the middle of the day.

So what is Christmas? Is it the food? Is it the distribution of gifts we almost certainly don’t need? Is it the bringing together of family and friends?

Obviously, for me as a clergyman, Christmas is primarily a religious festival and a marker in the church year that recognises and celebrates the incarnation of God, the moment His presence became flesh on earth. It is a celebration based on an anniversary. An anniversary many people don’t recognise or are unaware of, but keep nonetheless as a sort of winter shopping festival of food and family. So, as I put up my tree, admittedly early but in a sort of act of defiance against the difficulties of 2020, I came to the conclusion that Christmas has, in some ways, become an anniversary of Christmas itself.

Nonetheless, the concept of anniversary, and ritual, is deep rooted in our behaviour, it is a way of marking time, a way of expressing what is important to us – think Remembrance or birthdays or even Bonfire night.

Christmas this year is, I wonder, taking on a further layer of meaning as we try to hold on to the familiar in a year that has stripped away much of what made us feel safe and secure.

The practice of celebrating Christmas, when we have been thwarted in much of our social interaction, seems to be, somehow, of greater importance and a way of reasserting control in the wake of the strangest of years.

Yet as much as Christmas is a time to look back and remember times past it is a time to turn on the lights and look forward to the future too.

And I can’t help thinking there is much to look forward to in the changed world of 2021 – because 2020, for all its dramas, uncertainty, grief, shock and change, has lifted up to us with stark clarity what really matters to us – looking after one another and appreciating with gratitude all that life has to offer.

What traditions does your family continue at Christmas? Do you like sprouts? Do you agree with James? What do you think? Write to him at james.marston@archant.co.uk

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