‘On the first day of Christmas, my true love sent to me, a partridge in a pear tree’. Lovingly followed by eleven more gifts that end up with 12 drummers drumming. Bizarre as it is, we are all familiar with this festive favourite, and if you want to know what it would be like to actually receive the 12 gifts of Christmas, then seek out the version by Irish comedian, Frank Kelly, on YouTube. Trust me, it’s a real rib-tickler.
However, daft ditty aside, in religious terms, Christmas is the second most important event after Easter in the Christian calendar, but in festive terms is a much bigger occasion. The real 12 days of Christmas traditionally start on Christmas Day and last until the Epiphany, also known as Twelfth Night, on the evening of the 5th January. The 12 days have been celebrated in Europe since before the Middle Ages.
Today, Christmas is a much more consumer based event with preparations and celebrations starting earlier and earlier, year on year and is now not so much the 12 days of Christmas, but more like the 12 weeks.
Christmas has always been an important time for retailers, but the change to a much more overt, consumer focused time of year probably started at the turn of the century with the adoption of the more secular commercialised Christmas popular in America. However, to me, there is something a little unpleasant about an overtly commercialised celebration, where each year the focus is more about the size and value of the present, rather than the symbolism of giving. This often leads to community one-upmanship and disappointment if the gift of choice isn’t received and there is often an increase distress and strife with families that are hard up. Not forgetting the increasing incidents of shopping rage with consumers fighting in the aisles over access to the last must have presents.
It’s all a long way from the Christmases I recall, as a child, back in the early 1970’s.
Back then, Christmas was still an important time for retailers, but they would wait until December before overtly displaying and promoting Christmas merchandise with any surplus and unsold goods sold off in the January sales. Today, the marketing begins in October and the sales start as early as November. The problem with this modern trend is three fold:
Firstly, Christmas is becoming too overly commercialised, almost to the point that many children now think Christmas is about celebrating the arrival of Santa Claus rather than Jesus Christ.
Secondly, attention spans tend to be shorter these days. Therefore by starting the Christmas festivities so early, by the time Christmas actually arrives, the magic of Christmas is somewhat dampened as many have had their fill of festive jingles, glitter and tinsel and simply can’t wait for it all to be over.
Thirdly, economics. On the whole, people only have so much money to spend on Christmas. If people buy their presents, booze, crackers and figgie puddings in October or November, they aren’t going to buy them in December. Also, if retailers start their sales in November, people will take advantage and retailers make less profit and by the time January comes along we’re all skint and so spend much less in the shops.
Maybe if retailers, like the Co-Op have this year, curbed their enthusiasm for early Christmas spending and went back to a more traditional season of goodwill, we would all enjoy Christmas a little bit more and be a little less stressed.
I’ve no doubt, this view will be met with mixed reactions with some applauding in agreement and others grumbling “what a scrooge.”
However, there is still one tradition that is as good today as it’s always been at this time of the year, and that is when we look to help those who are less fortunate. All across the region people, young and old, will support various good causes, be it a community winter fayre, a shoe box appeal, food for the homeless or just some extra change in a collection tin.
This year, I would like readers to consider giving the large, national charities, with their big marketing budgets and highly paid CEO’s a miss and maybe support
smaller, regional, charites that do so much for the disadvantaged in the North East. Charities such as Clean Socks in Gateshead and Hopesping in Sunderland.
Clean Socks is a charity that tries to help and house the homeless and destitute, it seeks to help the people the authorities and the established charites often don’t want and abandon. The drug addicts, the alcoholics, the abused and those recently released from prison will not be turned away by Clean Socks.
Hopespring is an organisation that helps a broad spectrum of people throughout the region, from teenage mothers and their babies to care leavers, to children with complex emotional and behavioural problems. Establishments like their therapeutic school in Newcastle with places for very vulnerable young people who are at risk of, or have already been, excluded from mainstream schools. Hopesprings latest project, which opened this year, provides a home and support for young women and their babies, some of whom are emerging from the care system. This gives vulnerable young mothers the opportunity to bond with their babies and hopefully break the cycle of care.
Worthy charities indeed.
Further information on Clean Socks and Hopespring can be found on the following websites:
This article first appeared in the Newcastle Journal newspaper 6 December 2018