So, the writer is about to write the Christmas Letter.
The quite awful letter where parents kvell (I think that’s the word?) about the kids and what’ s
been achieved in terms of music lessons, exams, and riding a bicycle.
Only, as the kids are grown, thankfully we don’t need to join the party with that kind of stuff …
DO I FEEL ‘CHRISTMASSY’ AS CHRISTMAS APPROACHES?
No. Advent maybe: the time of watching and waiting.
Once, we waited through Advent, we kids, trembling, almost, with expectation. Gradually the seasons drew nearer and nearer, until on truly magical Christmas Eve, the tree was bought and decorated. We looked up to see the Star of Bethlehem shining once more in the navy-blue sky, over a frosty city, smelling of coldness and slightly of petrol.
My earliest Christmas memory is of standing in the doorway of our front room, and there was this amazing sight: the Tree, covered in glittery ornaments. They turn, slowly, reflecting the many-coloured lights. The room’s suffused with a gentle warmth. I am stunned, totally. Later, at my grandparents’ house, aged six, I feel no disappointment or surprise on waking briefly, the night between Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, to see a parental hand placing presents in my stocking.
After all, presents are presents, and secrets kept on both sides so as not to disappoint have a thrill of their own … We all kept up the myth, and Father Christmas/Santa continued to get his sherry and mince pie for many more years.
But oh how deep the disappointment of not having a ‘part’ in the nativity play, aged 7. Oh how much I wasn’t deceived by the sop of being ‘in the choir’! Of course, we were obviously a group of left-overs … (was that really true? Probably.)
Everything was one: cards, tree, F.Christmas/Santa, crib and carols
With the King’s Carols on the radio, as time went by, I got to decorate that tree and create the magic. Cards were displayed on every flat surface: bookshelves, windowsill, mantlepiece. Mostly of the famous mother, father, and baby-in-the-manger. Simplicity, profoundity, replicated in many styles and colours. Delicate Medieval drawings from Books of Hours, High Renaissance paintings, bright sketches by contemporary graphic artists.
The Magi travelled on camels towards a stylised Middle Eastern town, pictured against a pink dawn (or sunset).
The shepherds on their hillside were staggered to witness an angel choir.
Christmas past, the years of security.
This year the cards we’re sending will be secular: winter scenes, robins, holly, nothing ‘religious’. Not the crib, the stable, the angels, or the little family far from their home: even though that’s horribly relevant this year. It’s all come apart: not personally, but societally. The base-line story, from the food, presents, parties, and Santa (secret or otherwise). Yes, I enjoy the annual get-together of neighbours, and the once–a-year catch-up with far-flung friends and relatives. But the excess, and expectation to indulge, first communally and then, in the sudden silence of the most magical day, as a nuclear family. It’s no self-indulgent sadness, that today (having avoided the BBC News today) my priorities have been to get some work time, and some peace (to study the MSF website as it happened).
It’s more about the watch and wait of Advent
Whatever will be happening on 25th December this year, a pretty picture of the Holy Family isn’t going to solve anything. Realistically viewing the world in December 2015, Christmas pictured in those cards is a reassuring myth. Maybe I should’ve designed my own cards: ruined apartment blocks, broken lives … under the Star of Bethlehem. That was the reality for Mary (a terrified teenager) and Joseph and their baby – blessed to be born alive, and grow up healthy, despite soon to be running away from a hostile government. The Middle East isn’t a pretty town against the sunset … most of the world isn’t – some of us live in a little corner where some of it is, sometimes.
Which is an eternal (or at least historical) truth. As a group, humanity hasn’t yet solved the problem of living together under one sky as one global family. Card-wise, there’s the problem: the traditional Nativity scenes belie what we see on the News, turning religious Christmas into a false promise.
As a fiction writer, I engage with this as I work on the third story of the Mullins family. Love You to the Moon attempts at exploring what we mean by love … and what love gone wrong looks like … as in the wider world, everything moves nearer and nearer towards what feels like a worse chaos, rather than a new beginning.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not understood it …
(This was written during the Commons debate 2/12/15: #prayforSyria)