Sunday, December 24, 2006

Ba Humbug to Christmas cynics

For 12 months now, I have been trying to think of something interesting to say about Christmas. This has proved no straightforward task. Currently, like at the end of most years, I feel exhausted and am struggling to say something out of the ordinary on any subject, let alone remember all the witty things I thought up about Christmas in March. On top of this, Christmas is much the same each year, making it almost impossible to say anything original about it.

One option would be to spend the rest of this article complaining about Christmas, cataloguing all the things that make the silly season excruciating.

But we are all familiar with the list, including overbearing family members, cold stringy turkey, uncontrollable shopping, incessant Christmas jingles and, of course, flatulence-inducing Brussels sprouts. But that would be too easy and the last thing I would want to be is one of those people who pretend that they hate Christmas but really love it because they can spend a few weeks rattling on about how much they hate it.

A second option would be to get serious about the subject and throw myself into the debate about whether Christmas is politically offensive to people from non-Christian faiths. Better still, I could become a campaigner for a secular world carrying out acts of sabotage on Christmas trees in shopping malls. Or, perhaps, I could swing to the other extreme and become a Christmas freak decorating the garden with a 30-ft model of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and other paraphernalia. Public responses to such actions would give me lots to write about. But, sadly, I have bigger fish to fry, not to mention a turkey to baste. Besides, I feel unmoved by the political-correctness discussion about Christmas, whether from pro-Christmas zealots or those who find it disconcerting. I am tired of people going out of their way to be offended. Then again I could abandon any concern about the meaning of Christmas and throw myself headlong into the commercialism of it. Christmas would make the perfect time to write about new products on the market from Robosapiens to buying goats for friends that then get donated to poor people in Africa. I could even make a list of all the things I want from Father Christmas. But I don’t need anything more. So this year I will say what I don’t want. So what I don’t want for Christmas this year is any more bombs a-dropping, the subtlety of Robert Mugabe, Jacob Zuma’s legal bill, a voucher for a polonium- laced sushi bar in London, and poultry of any description in pear trees or any other foliage.

That said, I fear that complaining about Christmas, exploring its political significance or shopping myself silly will not move me any closer towards finding an attention-grabbing angle on Christmas. However, when I shared my woes with my wife, she reminded me of a simple fact: people like Christmas precisely because it is the same. Christmas provides continuity from one year to the next. It is a constant across one’s entire life. As WJ Cameron said, “There has been only one Christmas – the rest are anniversaries”.

So I guess those of us who celebrate Christmas are stuck in an unending tinsel-laced time loop, for better or for worse.

To deal with this, I have decided, drawing on the immortal words of Monty Python, that, although we might all be individuals, I am not. So bring out the reindeer, sleighs bells, mistletoe, carol singers, babies in mangers, donkeys, lowing cattle, school nativity plays, credit cards, wise men with weird gifts, Christmas pudding with hazardous coins in it, terrified turkeys and, of course, as many Santas with polyester beards a person can find, because, if you cannot beat them, join them.

Brandon Hamber writes the column "Look South": an analysis of trends in global political, social and cultural life and its relevance to South Africa on Polity. Copyright Brandon Hamber, May 2006. "Look South" Column published on Polity on 15 December 2006.