In the immortal words of Queen; Thank God It’s Christmas! But do we even know its Christmastime at all? A famous question but one even more pressing now more than ever, about each and every one of us. I don’t know how you have been feeling but the festive spirit is all but lost on me. So take my hand, let’s go on an adventure through festive favourites and why Christmas is truly the most wonderful time of year. In hopes of finding festive cheer and to save Christmas from a year that already has devoured so much our lives.
Christmas always begins for me with the sensational – legendary Nat King Cole’s voice. I dare you to find a song more atmospherically perfect. The soft sweeping soothing violins combined with Coles grasping timbre. This can both kick start Christmas time spirit at the beginning of December or its always the first song for Christmas morning. You can bet it comes back around a few dozen more times that day. Everyone has their favourite track that reminds them of the festive spirit but mine is more wholesome, perhaps it’s the songs ability to tap into the core of what Christmas is.
For me it evokes an image of a warm fireplace with the snow softly falling outside the frozen glass panes of your windows, its the heat of hot chocolate and the feeling of compassion that Cole is reaching out with. It touches base with all the Christmas hallmarks, family, reindeer, toys, mistletoe and of course Santa. I suppose that is why this always feels like the beginnings of the festive cheer for me, its reminding you about everything that Christmas is. There are many songs that fight for top contender for Christmas defined in a tune but none quite touch the touching simplicity of The Christmas Song.
Alright, we’re off to a good start and when Christmas starts, all that is on everyones minds is gifts! What do people want, what should you get them, will they like this and how much is too much. Gifting is such a core part of Christmas but I’m sure many people do and probably more so of recent years more than ever, Christmas feels far too commercial. It’s all about selling toys, tech and games to as many people as possible. So in today’s society where a great deal of kids and adults alike already have everything you could really WANT. Is Christmas really just a mass exchange of more junk so people feel good for a day?
A Charlie Brown Christmas is a house hold tradition for most, namely the Americans. I recently decided to give this a go to see what all this fuss was about. The same question of what makes Christmas is at the core of this sweet little cartoon and genuinely has something for everyone in the family. But let’s explore the main question of commercialised Christmas, of course for most even in the recesses of our memories, Christmas has always been toys, songs hitting the charts and massive food shops.
Something struck a cord with me while I was thinking about this, why is it that Christmas is the one time of year when listening to people like Bing Crosby, Eartha Kitt, Perry Como and of course Frank Sinatra is the default, its almost required. I mean there’s no shortage of covers or new age Christmas songs from the likes of Ariana Grande and the like. But this is a time of year for the golden oldies, for that special kind of sound. I don’t want to even attempt to dissect that but there’s a lot to be said for that phenomena and I’d say it has everything to do with this being a time of tradition, simplicity and togetherness. Its a comforting sound and I think that’s something we are all looking for around Christmastime.
This still doesn’t quite get past the issue of commercialism but here’s my thoughts on it; Toys, games, clothes whatever it is that you might receive for Christmas. Whether it was asked for or is a surprise. I think people who question the commercialism of Christmas are too entangled in the gifts themselves, instead step back…its the exchange, its everyone coming together to give someone else something, an offering of peace, respect, trust or love. Besides that’s never the big thing about Christmas. The big thing is food, its most likely the one time of year most people actually gather around a table together to eat food. Even if there are smartphones in hand and near dinner plates, there is a tremendous degree of significance around gathering around a meal. It brings us back to our roots of society and civilisation, there’s something quite human about it. Exchanging jokes, stories and the odd political discourse is all a part of that experience. Savour it for warts and all.
Right before we come back around to all that business of the true meaning of Christmas. In true ‘Christmas special form’ we’re being brought on to something else but we will get back to the core of this post later.
What about the big elephant in the room. Religion. Do you need to be religious to celebrate Christmas? To get anything out of it of significance? No, not at all is the short of it. I’m not religious in the slightest. But Christmas is my favourite holiday, even though I adore summertime. Christmas and December are simply magical. There’s an atmosphere unlike any other time of the year or any other event. There may be some who may say that I can’t really celebrate Christmas if I’m not religious. Perhaps they’d say the mere fact I do shows Christmas has lost its “meaning”. Nay! I’d shout back like some Dickensian protagonist. The mere fact I do shows just how much the ‘meaning’ of Christmas has transcended its roots in religion.
What is that story? Sure its about the birth of the literal messiah. But it’s also got very simple and straightforward takeaways. It’s a bunch of strangers meeting in a barn, coming together in offerings of peace and prosperity. That is more than religion, that is human.
But what about everything else so closely tied into Christmas. Like films and television specials…Well lets talk Christmas films, as film can be such a big identifier of our cultural expectations. I have two Christmastime favourite films, Die Hard is one. But that’s more fun than what were trying to get at here. The other is a yearly rewatch that might as well be demanded for all at Christmastime, especially if you’re not feeling festive this year. That film is It’s A Wonderful Life.
You’ve likely seen it mentioned numerous times, it being a holiday staple and all. It’s more than some self obsessed film fanatics wet dream idea of a Christmas movie because it’s in black and white and stars James Stewart. It sort of ties back to a few things I have already mentioned doesn’t it. Why do we so often turn back to the past at Christmas. I suppose it’s in spirit of the religious context of the holiday. But moving on from that essay loaded question. It’s A Wonderful Life is a feeling we can all tap into, especially perhaps those of us who feel down around the holidays. A feeling of worthlessness, that everyone would be better off.
Perhaps you feel what George feels at the bridge. A sense of failure, whether that be financially, for your family, for your morals or for yourself. It’s easy to fall down a slope of feeling like a lot of people would be better off without you. It’s what Christmas is based around after all; the community. It’s so important to people and our well beings, to be welcomed, to be looked after, to be accepted and to also give back to those around you. So when it comes to a holiday that has that in spades and you don’t feel much like you’ve done well by the people in your life. Well take note of that feeling but don’t let it define you.
What It’s A Wonderful Life is all about is not letting the trouble you are in now be the end of you. Not giving up, because as the film chronicles, that too is doing wrong by not only those who love you but the community around you. You owe it to those people to be better. You owe it to yourself to try. What the film details is that you can do so much for people by doing so little, it’s the attention to the smallest things that make us all feel loved. It may not go some gloriously well as it does in the film but its something to aspire to, to go back out and try. It’s your life, it can be wonderful and it’s yours to live. What George’s story shows is that happiness can be found by taking note of what you do have in your life, appreciating it, be merry to your friends and families and that same joy you put into your community will be return unto you.
So is that what Christmas is all about, paying back to your community, doing things for others? What if you don’t have others. What if you have no friends or family or community. What if you’re alone.
If that is you then those Blue Christmases are all too real. Christmas isn’t always special is it? Even when times were better and you were out at a party or event for Christmas often times you might be someone who finds yourself feeling lonely whether that be a lack of romance or family, perhaps the longing for some kind of connection is what Christmas digs from your soul and if its not there, well you feel blue.
We’re off tracks here because we have to own up…Not every Christmas is special or remotely warm or comforting. Sometimes we get lost in the blues and our hearts yearn for something more. This year more than anything we will all feel some sense of that, whether you’re locked in through in holidays or this year has just been so monstrous that you’re in the belly of the beast and Last Christmas feels like its being played from another room (see video above, I don’t know what it is about the muffled sound but its electric in a certain mood). This time of year has a incredible capacity for self reflection, its not always pleasant but its a good moment to take all that in, even if the festivities aren’t bringing some holiday joy from you. Sometimes a Blue Christmas is what we need to really feel everything that is in our hearts.
Is Christmas really a big pressure tank of love and if you don’t have it you’re gonna be swallowed by it? Maybe. But none the less I think it’s a good thing, it’s a reminder of our humanity. And as if by design has brought us back to our question.
This feeling of lacking or the blues, might be justified for whatever form of suffering you may be facing, but it rises above to prove one thing for certain. Christmas is far from commercial. If it were all glitz and glamour then those blues could be struck away with some big expensive purchase, the gift giving or the mass amounts of food, or well wishes from people you know would wipe that all away. But no it doesn’t does it. I do believe Christmas around social media is another issue entirely but lets stay on track. If it were all about gifts and what not, why do people so often find this time of year the loneliest. What do they do at Christmas? They want love, they want bonding, they want good times and connection, whatever it might be but nine out fo ten times these blues can be beaten by humanity, pure and simple. No matter who it is too, family, friends, strangers on the street. That is what Christmas is all about, the coming together of people, compassion for one’s fellow man.
This year has been a behemoth of misery and destruction. But here we are, we made it. It’s Christmas. Now is a time to try and forget about all that and remind ourselves of our shared humanity. The simple things, to enjoy the gifts, the food and the times we are sharing in our collected lives. To spare a moment for ones fellow man, to think about the less fortunate, to think of those we have neglected to ourselves and most importantly our future. Come together with whoever it may be. Be festive, for we get to wake up and go forward living. Nothing is solved immediately but we wouldn’t have it any other way, we are here for the challenge.
The challenge of bettering ourselves and sparing at least a thought, or a moment or a day, or a special meal with our communities. This year we will find it harder than most but I know we will all find a way to wish each other a fun time and well being. I will leave you with a Christmas song especially for this year and my personal playlist of Christmas music. To fill your homes and for a moment, be well.
This is Christmas. It’s been said many times and many ways. But from me to you from the bottom of my heart, I wish you a very merry Christmas.