It is coming up to one of the best times of the year; those early days of January following the sixth – a period I cheerfully refer to as ‘The Anti-Christmas’!
Alas December has first to be endured. It is a month dominated by two types of people: those who project that the time is fun for commercial purpose; and those who do so for social advantage. Although each was a monstrous individual, nonetheless Joe Stalin and Ollie Cromwell may have each separately been onto something – in so far as they both banned aspects of Christmas.
As if an orgy of collective consumerism can offset the unrelenting bleakness of the year’s dullest days? On a more serious note, it is sad that the ‘festive season’ correlates with an annual spike in altercations, hospital admissions, relationship break-ups, etc.
There is no other way to put it: December fills me with dread. Daylight dropping by a few minutes each day, and worse if cloudy when even the shadows refuse to come out to play amid grim gloom. The rain that fell yesterday does not seem dry on these grey days, as thermometers shiver with the temperatures in single digits. For certain, these must count as the bleakest weeks of the calendar.
James Harpur brings us on a poetic journey of Christmases past, present and to come.https://t.co/KF198o7nBI#poetry #poetrycommunity #poetrylovers @broadsheet_ie @Andrea_Rey48 @ArtsOverBorders @NMcDevitt @FintanOHiggins @FutureVisions5 @AlanGilsenan1 @hisonlysonnet @amandaknox
— CassandraVoices (@VoicesCassandra) December 18, 2020
All too often, people behave in a manner unacceptable at any other time of the year. One only has to cross a street during these weeks to witness the manic impatience – and occasional dangerous behaviour – by countless drivers.
Yet just a few weeks later, the streets are quieter, calmer, and indeed sometimes serene. The same individual who was driving crazily is often a character transformed, taking far more care on the road.
Maybe it is the guilt-trips associated with December that are most objectionable. These generally take two forms. There is the necessary attendance of social occasions – so as it is less likely to be perceived as an antisocial malcontent – and then there are those innumerable good causes seeking charitable donations. It can be a hard challenge to simply battle on, but it’s vital all the same.
The usual routes for psychological escape, however, tend to be stymied. Anything outdoors involves cold or damp. Try turning on a radio or TV and you are bombarded with advertising, promising either unbelievable joys after a purchase, or else soliciting charity for desperate heart-breaking catastrophes; a choice between strychnine smiles and poor unfortunates suffering dreadful distress. Possibly not a great recipe for people’s mental health, I suspect.
Fortunately, the crescendo of craziness usually peaks in the days leading up to Christmas Eve. By then, the sloppiness associated with the Christmas office party mobs has mostly dissipated. Nitwits likely to attempt to attend twelve pubs are also typically in retreat, having succeeded or failed in their valiant missions.
New Years’ Eve can pose a threat, but usually it just amounts to an Amateurs’ Night, where chaos is confined to those determined to participate. And unless one is unfortunate to live where Orthodox Christmas occurs, the future gets brighter – literally!
From around January seventh our world starts becoming more pleasant and civilised. It is by then nearly four weeks since earliest nightfall! Contrary to common perception, daylight in evening time begins to extend around the thirteenth of December – although mornings continue getting darker until the thirty-first, hence the twenty-first being the day with least daylight overall. Thus, a week into January, it is bright for nearly an hour longer than the depressing days of mid-December.
All the nonsense and excess of previous weeks is thankfully finished with for another year. Coca-cola put away their crappy red cloaked Santa Clauses until its annual marketing requirement ten months later –likewise the other big brands that have rendered bland any sense of occasion the time of year ever contained. With January’s arrival, the phrase ‘Sure, it’s Christmas’ becomes invalid, and can no longer be cited in defence of unsatisfactory actions, or lack thereof.
There is a defence made about Christmas having a ‘real’ meaning before it was commercially hijacked. Yet there again, it is worth noting it was an annual pagan festival before it was pilfered or ‘culturally appropriated’ by Christians. It used to help sell Rome; now it sells Coca-cola.
@Andrea_Rey48 explores the origins of well-known Christmas traditions drawn from our pagan ancestors and reveals ways of enjoying greener seasonal cheer.@broadsheet_ie @CSBlenner @fellipelopes7 @IlsaCarter1 https://t.co/VKRfdAGnUB #christmasisnotcancelled #Christmas
— CassandraVoices (@VoicesCassandra) December 22, 2020
All too often, securing a restaurant table in December is a competitive heat, where the victors’ spoils consist of queues and confined spaces, served-up with a dollop of top-dollar prices by overworked staff at the end of their tether. Yet walk into the same establishment in January – at least in ‘normal times’ – and savour the personal attention you are likely to receive from staff glad of the custom. The January lunch or supper liberates the individual; company is by choice rather than obligation.
It is not that January is the winter tunnel’s end – but an unmistakable brightness is beginning to hove into view. There will be further dark days ahead, but none darker than those past; the dreariness is finally passing. Media continues to push commercial adverts, but those flogging insurance and holidays tend to use far less shrill ditties than those carried at Christmas time. In January, the hard sells are off, enforced engagement is over; and we can escape – we can get away from the maddening crowd.
It is understandable then why the period around January the sixth has long been known in Ireland as ‘Little Christmas’ or ‘Nollaig na mBan’, meaning ‘Women’s Christmas’.
I may call it ‘The Anti-Christmas’ – but perhaps the older title is better, luring buy-in from erstwhile festive fanatics. This is the moment when reasonable people breath a sigh of relief, safe in the knowledge they are as far as possible on the calendar from the annual madness of the ‘holiday season’.
A light is there on the horizon, beckoning us forth, promising a beginning of better and brighter days: Hooray for Jolly January!
Feature Image: Daniele Idinin