As Christmas in the UK has become increasingly secular and commercialised, I wonder whether it is a happier occasion now than it was in former times? It certainly seems to have become increasingly more stressful; I don’t recall hearing about people being trampled by over-zealous shoppers, or of fist-fights breaking out over goods in our shops. My family’s Christmas when I was a boy was divided mainly between chapel and home. The children’s Christmas party in the Chapel vestry was a definite highlight. Father Christmas inevitably made an appearance and passed out presents to each of us; some of the bigger boys suspected it was a deacon dressed-up; I for one never believed this, though come to think of it, for a man who spent three hundred and sixty four days a year in isolation at the North Pole he did have a remarkably strong Valleys accent! However, the seeds of commercialisation had already been sown even back then, and although the pile of presents I was given might seem modest compared to the personalised Aladdin’s cave the average British child seems to be presented with these days, compared to my parents’ generation who got little more than a tangerine and a few brazil nuts, we were generously provided for.
It has always been a Johnson family tradition that a certain percentage of stocking fillers (always wrapped in newspaper when I was little) are booby prizes. My Dad (I learnt later on to recognise his packing style and handwriting) meticulously wrapped up for us, under numerous tightly packed layers: a broken pen, in fact anything broken might appear, carrots, potatoes, often a solitary brazil nut, and I generally received one or other of the small brass candlesticks off the mantlepiece (being a matching pair, brother Ian got its pal!). Dad’s written messages always urged us on, “Almost there!” “You’re going to love this!” “Something really good!” “This is just what you’ve always wanted!”. In a way the boobies, and their attention to detail, spoke as much to me about the love in my family home as did the ‘good stuff’. Yes, the Matchbox, James Bond Aston Martin DB7, complete with tiny man and ejector seat was a jaw-dropper, but I would have been awfully disappointed if my parents hadn’t taken the time to wrap up a few really misleading ‘duds’ that year. Judith and I continued the tradition with our own son.
I think what I want to say is that Christmas isn’t solely about receiving, it’s about sharing too; a time for each of us to be gathered into ‘the fold’. It’s a time for inclusion and for expressing love; a time that makes me grateful for my family and friends; and causes me to remember too that I belong to a far wider human family. Henry James said: “Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind.”
Have a lovely Christmas everybody!