Christmas is rapidly descending upon on us and, for many, it signifies a period of joy and happiness. A time to celebrate with family and friends. A magical time for children. An opportunity to indulge ourselves and others.
Christmas can also be a sad time for many. A time of loneliness. A time of strained relationships. Feelings of inadequacy and anti-climax can puncture the ideals of Christmas.
For others Christmas is about sharing; compassion, caring for others, community. A celebration of Christianity.
One thing we can all agree upon I’m sure, is that it costs us a lot of money. Apparently the average spending in British households this Christmas will be around £800!
Nearly a quarter (23%) of Brits feel under pressure to spend more than they can afford, according to research from the Money Advice Trust’s National Debt Line.
So, what does Christmas mean to you?
I read an article in the Times recently, which was reviewing a book by Judith Flanders entitled ‘A Biography of Christmas’. It fascinated me how modern day Christmas could be viewed as an antithesis of what celebrating Christmas used to be about. Yet, when we look back through history you can understand how Christmas has evolved:
- Long before the Roman Empire adopted Christianity, the winter solstice was a time of pagan gluttony and celebration to stave off the dark nights, evil spirits and famine. In German, “Yule” means nothing more than midwinter.
- Overeating is nothing new. On Christmas Day 1213, King John and his guests consumed 27 hogsheads of wine, 400 heads of pork, 3000 fowl, 15000 herring,10000 eels, 100lbs of almonds, 2lbs of spices and 66lbs of pepper. A festival of calories long before they had been invented!
- Mince pies continue a tradition from the 1500’s. They used to be called “Shred Pies” and were made with shredded meat, candied peel and fruit. Mince pies were savoury for 200 years until sugar became cheaper. Plum pudding known as “Plum Broth” was originally savoury – beef soup thickened with breadcrumbs and dried fruit. An 18th century Swiss traveller reportedly said very firmly “you had to be English to like it!”.
- Fun and excess in the form of office parties can be traced back to Lords inviting their staff to feast.
- The name Santa probably doesn’t come from the Dutch Saint Nicolaas as is commonly accepted but from Swiss-German immigrants to New York whose dialect name for the saint was Samichkauss and Santi-Chlaus.
- and finally a more morbid spin on Christmas and thankfully something which hasn’t permeated our Christmas psyche; In the Alps, it was said that the Goddess Perchta appeared on Twelfth Night to slit naughty children’s stomachs and replace their organs with stones and straw! Perhaps this is why children leave gifts at Christmas, but nowadays it is to the loveable Santa.
In her summary, Judith Flanders says “Christmas is personal to all. It’s not what it is, or even has been but what we hope for”. Perhaps that is what we are really celebrating over the festive period, just like with the traditions of years gone by.
So, how do you view Christmas and the festive period? Importantly, what do you hope for? And how are you going to make it happen?
Now seems a good time to say a big thank you for accommodating my ramblings this year. Myself and the team at Blue Sky wish you and your family a huge Merry Christmas and an exciting New Year.
Gary Neild B.Sc.Hons. DipIP PFA