1st – Bah Humbug
It must be over thirty years since I had an advent calendar. I haven’t thought about them in years. I haven’t ‘done’ Christmas in a couple of decades. What? Back the truck up? You don’t ‘do’ Christmas? Does not compute. How can that be? That’s the response I still face this time of year, the time of year when we’ve all lately recovered from the increasingly commercialised nonsense that Halloween has become, which seems to be just a prelude to the Christmas madness people feel it necessary to engage with every December. Despite the fact that millions of people around the world aren’t Christian, you’re still considered somehow strange if you don’t buy into the whole festive cheer thing. And every year come Advent, I tuck my head in and try to hide till Epiphany, or Twelfth Night, or what you will. But this year I’m coming out fighting. I’m going to tell you why it is I don’t celebrate Christmas.
I always said I had three good reasons: I don’t believe in God, I don’t believe in capitalism and I know from personal experience that Christmas can be the most awful time of year. What’s to celebrate in that? But this year, I’m taking myself, and you if you dare to come with me, on an Advent journey through all my Christmases past. Maybe it will lay Marley’s ghost at last? Maybe it will give me closure and you understanding. Or maybe it’s just another way to pass the time.
And so that’s how I re-engaged with the concept of the Advent Calendar. I thought that with 24 days to cover, it would be a nice little conceit to get hold of an Advent calendar, open a door every day and at least give you something ‘special’ to look forward to – the sense of wonder at the unknown which is what advent calendars used to bring for me as a very small child.
So I went shopping. Something I try to avoid doing these days after about the middle of October. It used to be the middle of November but Halloween is now crowding out the stores in the same glitzy glamour that Christmas does and it turns out I’m just as allergic to commercialised spookery as I am to commercialised festivity. The only thing to do is to avoid the shops. But I went. I went looking for an advent calendar. Like when I was a kid.
Back that truck right up. I know I should have realised advent calendars, like everything else, have moved on, evolved, become more extreme. All I could find were Star Wars and Disneyfication and branded chocolate bars hiding themselves behind the façade of an advent calendar. Forgive my cynicism but what exactly does franchising have to do with the advent story? Has the baby Jesus been completely pushed out of the picture since I stopped paying attention? I remember learning ‘We will rock you,’ in nursery school, and I don’t mean the Queen anthem, I mean that other song ‘Baby Jesus, sweetly sleep, do not stir, we will fetch a coat of fur’ – I may be paraphrasing slightly, but it’s scary how those early songs stay with you. I haven’t thought of that song in decades but I could still get up and sing it on stage in front of an audience of doting parents if I had to. And if the doting parents still existed.
As I said, everything changes and maybe it was foolish of me to think Christmas would be any different. I’m not the target market any more, after all, am I? Christmas is for children. And today children love bright, shiny, expensive, consumer crap. And they are a powerful market force to be reckoned with. They have pester power and nowhere is this exploited more than at Advent. The new must have toys hit the screens and the shops and parents are unable to resist. They must, after all, do the best for their offspring. And doing the best, once Children in Need is out of the way, means buying the best, doesn’t it? But I’m not a parent, so the Christmas spirit can’t even get me that way. Like I said, I’m an oddity. I don’t fit into polite society. And nowhere is that more obvious than at Advent.
I’m just left with my imagination to open Advent doors for you each day. No chocolates. No pictures. Just my words. I looked online for Advent calendars – well, today if you can’t find something you just google, right. I exited quickly when I discovered that to buy an Advent calendar can cost you up to £85. Yes, that’s right. You can get one that’s a tree and instead of opening a door each day, the kid gets a hand puppet. 24 hand puppets in a month. That’s beyond my wildest childhood dreams. The excitement for me was in what lay behind the door and as a child that was good enough. More than enough on occasions, as you’ll find out if you come back each day. Like I said, children have evolved. Christmas has clearly evolved and I’ll not be splashing out £8 for an advent calendar with a few bits of chocolate attached to cardboard any more than I’ll be paying £85 for puppets. So you’re stuck with a new story a day for twenty four days. And they won’t all be happy stories. But they will all open a door on an aspect of Christmas – some may be familiar, and I hope that many of them won’t be. But they are all real. They all make up my life.
An advent calendar of memories that are not for the faint-hearted.