Saturday, December 3, 2011

It’s that time of year again

With a certain inevitability, the calendar creeps towards that special holiday where we all have to be fun-loving and jolly and yet peaceful and with goodwill to all men in our hearts (“goodwill to all people” would be more in keeping with our more egalitarian times, but doesn’t really sound right).

All of this is fine with me as far as it goes, but if you really want to put me off a festival, you only have to impose on me the sort of enforced jollity over a period of several weeks that makes me feel I’m somehow letting the side down if I have a bad morning. Suddenly, I go all cynical to the point where it’s fun to pointedly refuse to join in the fun.

Around here, people go slightly insane from the first Sunday in Advent, although it all begins as early as September when the first chocolate Santas appear in the stores. Suddenly, people are draping their houses in LEDs, inflatable snowmen and dummy Santas hilariously hanging onto rope ladders (if you want to burgle a house in Germany between Halloween and New Year’s, just get a Santa costume and practice moving like a lethargic sloth). Oh, and relentless Christmas music, most of it almost as old as me, is played at you everywhere (and while we’re on the subject, Last Christmas by Wham! is not a jolly Christmas tune, it’s a song about the break-up of a dysfunctional relationship).

Of course, it’s not Christmas itself I object to, but all the stuff leading up to it and the stuff you’re expected to do. My ideal Christmas would start on Christmas Eve, the house would be simply and tastefully decorated, there would be a nice meal, an exchange of small but meaningful gifts, and the next twelve days would be full of slightly more alcohol than usual, visits to and from friends and relatives I actually like and punctuated by a big party on New Year’s Eve.

Call me a killjoy if you will, but an even bigger killjoy is the Catholic Church in Germany. Every year in the run-up to Christmas (the new word for Advent), the Catholic Church has a campaign to ban Santa Claus. You see, Santa is an American tradition which has usurped the much more venerable tradition of St Nicholas, whose day is 6th December. The original German tradition is that St Nicholas brings small gifts for children on that day, while the big Christmas gifts are brought by the Christ Child on Christmas Eve, rather in the manner (we are led to believe) that someone having a birthday is expected to buy everyone a round of drinks.

Glossing over the fact that the Christ Child dispensing gifts in Germany is almost universally associated with a pubescent girl in a nightie and sporting angel wings, the Church sort of has a point here: Santa did get here from America. Having got to America from the Netherlands, and getting a bit confused with Father Christmas from Britain.

But how mean-spirited do you have to be to actually launch a campaign banning Santa from Germany? Demanding that shops remove their chocolate Santas and replace them with chocolate St Nicks (the only difference being that St Nick, being a bishop, wears a mitre) seems like a pointless gesture. Putting up posters with the face of Santa with a red diagonal stripe through it (“Say No to Santa”) is just spiteful.

So what if five-year-olds imagine their gifts are delivered not by a winged girl pretending to be a baby boy, but by a jolly fat man in red? Seriously.

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