It’s August 25th and we’ve just had our first Christmas catalogue through the post.
Oh dear! I know from experience they’ll now be coming thick and fast, while the shops fill with Christmas gifts. Before we know where we are (and well before the end of November) the decorations will be out, in shop windows and then in city streets, and the air will be full of increasingly irritating jingles. By Christmas Eve – still more than seventeen weeks away – we will all be feeling jaded and longing for the return of normality.
When I was a child we didn’t even put up the Christmas tree in our house until Christmas Eve. Which wasn’t to say that we weren’t aware that Christmas was coming, and excited at the prospect. But being a vicarage household we were very conscious that Advent only finished on Christmas Eve and until then festivities were frowned upon. My mother still refuses, where humanly possible, to attend carol services before Christmas proper has begun, which generally means she misses nearly all of them.
In days gone by Christmas did indeed begin late on December 24th – and then continued for twelve days until the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6th. It’s not that they didn’t celebrate – in fact it was the traditional orgy of riotous feasting that so offended the Puritans in the time of Oliver Cromwell – but that they liked to do things in the right way at the right time. There were seasons for fasting and feasting just as there were for eating fruit and vegetables.
The trouble is that if you try to follow that system nowadays you miss out on all the parties and theatrical performances and carol services and activities aimed at children, because they all happen before Christmas itself, sometimes long before. Of course, you can’t turn the clock back – but it would be nice if the signs of Christmas were to appear just a bit later – at the end of November, at the very earliest. Some hopes!