Having survived the feeding frenzy (and media vulturing) of Black Friday, the latest hand-me-down consumer meme from America, we now have Cyber Monday – when it all happens again, online (will the future be merely a digital echo of the present?) and we move even further from the original Christmas message. Whatever your thoughts on ‘Him Upstairs with the Beard’, Peace on Earth and Goodwill to All is as positive, universal and relevant as ever. But Lo! There is nothing in ye olde Xmas message that tells us to buy loads of stuff! We can celebrate Yuletide without being sucked into the consumerism. Yes, it’s hard, but not impossible. Here’s how:
Why not make a pact with your loved ones only to exchange presents that are hand- and home-made?
You can still gather round the hearth and make merry (I’m not advocating an austere, unepicurean experience at all – I’m all for the odd bit of Dionysian sensuality now-and-then).
Allow time for peacefulness (‘stillness’ is what the solstice means after all). Turn off your wifi and all of your devices at least once a day. Try to do something tactile and real – make a loaf, chop logs, go for a wintry walk, soak in a bath, read an actual book, speak to a real person.
Consider those without – buy Charity cards or gifts if you have to, or offer your time. Volunteer locally. Help out at a community project. Make a difference.
Amid the tedious tinsel, looped Carols and forced bonhomie it is easy to forget that for some Christmas is a subdued time of mourning, of remembering. Enforced merriment is a form of emotional aggression. Be joyous, be sentimental, be charitable whenever you feel like it – not just because the adverts tell you to.
Dickens’ fine ghost tale of A Christmas Carol is usually peddled out to guilt-trip potential Scrooges into toeing the line. Anyone display slightly unfestive sentiments is castigated as social pariah, caricatured as the Grinch (showing how even the Satanic Anti-Consumerist can be turned into a profitable trope). Governments continue to insist they do not pay ransoms, but every year we get emotionally blackmailed into buying crap we can’t afford for people who don’t want it.
This year, the orgy of Capitalist excess is made even more obscene (when so much of the world is without) by the use of the First World War Centenary and the famous No Mans Land football game (Sainsbury’s Xmas ad) to sell us the Christmas message. This feels even more of a desecration than the use of the Christian message to sell Amazon warehouses full of sweat-shop shit.
Of course there are other Midwinter traditions – the Pagan, the Jewish, the Norse to name some – and I’m all for connecting with the local, the distinctive, the quirky. Solstice ceremonies, mummers plays, wassailling, carols … whatever floats your boat.
But how about making an early Resolution – an opt for a non-commercial Christmas?
Don’t spend money on loved ones, spend time.
To put things into perspective, here is a poem by the great neglected (in his lifetime) visionary artist and poet, William Blake (whose birthday happened to coincide with Black Friday this year), who struggled all of his life to ‘make ends meet’ but held true to his calling – this is never more poignantly expressed than in this poem, contained within a Letter to Thomas Butts, written 22nd November 1802:
Let’s change Black Friday to Blake Friday – and celebrate the true wealth of the imagination, without which we are truly impoverished.
William Blake: Apprentice and Master, Exhibition at the Ashmolean, Oxford,
4 Dec-1 March 2015 http://www.ashmolean.org/exhibitions/williamblake/