19 December 2011

Christmas - past and present

It is interesting how attitudes towards particular seasons can be so diverse in just one family, let alone a country and the Christmas season is a good example and my own family an example within that example.

My maternal Grandmother didn't like Christmas and it wasn't difficult to understand why. So many people whom she had loved died around this time of the year including her sister, brother and her mother who died early in a new year when my Grandmother had already lost her Father to World War 1 and she was still a child of 12. I often wonder if it was almost a deliberate thing that she died on 14th December being unable to face another Christmas. Having said that the date appears to be an eventful one for my family; I have a sister and a niece born on that date and one Uncle suffered a heart attack on that date too. It's with relief that I awake on the 15th not having endured some momentous event on the previous day!

My Mother loved Christmas but then as I've said before she had a true Christian faith and so it was natural for her to find joy in the celebrations of her Saviour's birth. Mom made Christmas special for us when we were children. She was a decent cook so Christmas Day lunch was always something to savour and enjoy. She always put the turkey in the oven to cook as she went to bed on the Eve and so my memories of Christmas Day mornings are of getting up to a warm downstairs because the oven had been on all night (no central heating back then) and the smell of the cooked turkey making me ravenous and ready for lunch at 8am!

I'm not sure who started the tradition of no stockings but Mom always packed all of our presents, well except for the really big ones such as the bicycle I got one year, into a pillow case and this was left at the bottom of our beds by Father Christmas (he was never Santa in our house) and his helpful elves. This made for some very early starts in Aldridge as who could resist opening presents when they were there in your bedroom? It also meant that Mom was never really sure which Aunty had given what present because in the frenzy of opening we never read the labels, so the much hated but necessary task of thank you letters was a fraught one.

We always had to have lunch over by 3pm so that we could watch the Queen. We were not allowed to talk during our Sovereign's address to us and the Commonwealth, well except Mom who was allowed a running commentary on how young/old Queenie was looking and whether her dress suited her or not.

It wouldn't be long afterwards that Tea would be prepared. Cold turkey, salad, bread and pickles. Oh how I adored Christmas tea and it's never ending supply of pickled onions and cabbage! And then trifle and home made mince pies, a yule log, Christmas Cake, it was all to die for.

My most treasured memories of Christmas past are of my Mother singing. She sang all the time, all year through but at Christmas she sang even more. She had a beautiful soprano singing voice and during her life she sang in many choirs but for quite a few years when I was a child every Christmas we would travel around local authority homes for the elderly in Birmingham with my Uncle (whom I think was responsible for organising this) Aunt, their friends, my parents and siblings on a Sunday afternoon and evening, singing carols to the residents. It was an experience I always enjoyed. I can still see my Mom's face as she sang, joyful and happy.

This Christmas is my first without Mom and my eighteenth without my Grandmother. Two women who have done more to shape me than anyone else alive and yet with such diverse feelings about this time of the year. I still miss my Grandmother and her little pearls of wisdom and my Mother? Well this is going to be a strange Christmas without her because it's always been such a fun and full time of the year with her. I've no doubt there will be tears shed but because this time of the year meant so much to her I shall feel obliged not to cry too much and to enjoy it because she loved it so much.

Where ever you are, what ever faith you follow or do not, I wish you joy and peace this Christmas time, with experiences that will provide good memories in the years ahead. Enjoy the company of your loved ones, be they friends or family. To anyone who is alone not through choice, I wish you the comfort of happy memories and contentment with life.

11 December 2011

Mistletoe and Wine

There are two things guaranteed to happen at this time of the year and both annoy me with equal intensity. I try not to let them, not good for my karma but Zen is sometimes hard to achieve when there are bloody-minded people on this planet!

There have been festivities in Mid Winter for as long as humankind has walked the planet. Yule and Saturnalia amongst a plethora of festivals, predate the Christian tradition by millennia and many traditions from these ancient winter festivals were adopted by the Christian Church when it decided in the 4th century to make the 25th December the date that Jesus Christ’s birth was to be celebrated, despite the fact that nobody really knows when he was born.

Mistletoe, wreaths, Yule logs, community singing and feasting are all traditions we continue today as our pagan ancestors did in the days of yore. These festivities grew up around the time of the winter solstice to celebrate rebirth and renewal. Ok so in the middle of a bleak midwinter it sometimes feels that springtime is a long way off but following the solstice the days start to draw out once again signalling renewal. Of course we now celebrate these days on what are effectively vastly different days from our ancestors due to the shift from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar. Which adds more arrows to my bow…..

If as a non-church goer you dare in this season to venture inside a church to participate in a little community singing and enjoy some Christmas type spirit you would be forgiven for thinking that you were going to hell in a handcart. The vicar or priest will stand there delivering the well worn phrases that I’ve heard since my childhood of how the real meaning of this festival has been lost; lost to commercialisation and to those of no faith who have the temerity to only turn up to church once a year! Talk about a warm welcome, well no, they don’t or at least in my experience they don’t.

It annoys me that the Christian Church thinks it has a monopoly on celebrations at this time of the year when let’s face it, they were the interlopers. This brings me to the second thing that annoys me. It’s all over social media now, Facebook, twitter et al. In the days before these inventions it would be discussions on the radio or TV or even letters to the newspaper. It’s the “I’m not going to wish you happy holidays, cos it’s Christmas. It’s not winterval, it’s Christmas.” You know the sort of thing. It usually ends with a xenophobic type statement along the lines of “if you don’t like it and our traditions then go back to where you came from”.

Now this annoys me on so many levels I don’t even know where to start! Firstly, the media in whatever form has hoodwinked most of the people that post this sort of rubbish, that there are people who object to Christmas. This amazes me. Anyone of true faith has total respect for the faith of others and his or her festivals and celebrations and holy days. I’ve worked in very multi-cultural offices in various parts of the country and the only group of people who didn’t send Christmas cards and give Christmas presents or participate in any way whatsoever were the witness of Jehovah! Yes that’s right; the Hindu’s, Sikhs, Muslims, Buddhists all appeared to participate in Christmas and in the traditions associated with it including feasting, present and card giving and parties! Most went home and put up Christmas trees too. It strikes me that a few well meaning but misguided liberals way back in the 1980s tried a few renaming/rebranding exercises and thereby started these myths that perpetuate and grow to this day. Whenever you challenge someone who has posted such rubbish to come up with some evidence of where in the UK Christmas is banned, they never can. Simple really, they can’t because it hasn’t. What annoys me even more is the point that so few of those who think like this will actually attend a church or celebrate the day in a Christian manner. Sure they’ll be celebrating, as the majority will but not in the way those vicars and priests I mentioned at the beginning would like them to, which rather brings me full circle.

I can never understand why people just don’t live and let live. Whatever your beliefs or reasons for celebrating at this time of the year or not as the case may be, just enjoy the time that is available to spend with your loved ones, indulging in traditions and rituals that have been around for centuries and looking forward to longer days and the renewal of life. I shall take a spoon of my own advice now and stop getting annoyed….