I love this time of year, and yes I’d go so far as to say that I get more than just a little geeky around about now. Hard to blame me, it’s a time of year where families come together to share food and presents, and while for many of us that’s a time that generates stress, conflict, and bankruptcy, I shamelessly adore Christmas.
If you think it’s a commercial thing, you’re spending too much in too short a space of time. If you think it’s lost all meaning, you’re a couple of thousand years too late. If you hate Christmas, you’re either doing it wrong or have a very grave and indisputable reason, you have my condolences, you deserve a Merry Christmas more than most.
Saturnalia, pulled from the Roman adoption of pagan solstice, is the source of most of our traditions at this time of year, especially in Britain, Europe and America. The feast, the evergreens, the lights, all stem from assorted Viking, Gaelic, and Celtic rituals along with dozens of others, comprised of the rituals in celebration of many religious figures, Yule, Odin, Horus, and of course Jesus.
Santa himself has deep roots in the same mythologies, hence the frosty abode and eternally full beard. However, he’s not the only mythic beasty roaming abroad, and not all of them are giving out presents. We all know Krampus snatches up children in a sack with many a rattling of chains, but there are some parents out there who may prefer a visit from the Christmas Ogress Grýla, a horror from Icelandic lore who eats bad children, except for her own brood of seasonal tricksters, the Yule Lads, a band of trolls who steal food and things over Yuletide.
There is the ever-famous Zwarte Piet (Black Peter), who in certain cultures is the politically incorrect Robin to Santa’s jolly-old Batman. As the name might imply, Peter is most often depicted as being black-skinned, originally because he was a messenger to Saint Nick who sent reports of mortal behaviour via the chimney, but later with a retelling of the medieval book Golden Legend, Saint Nicolas gained a miracle to his name, the saving of a slave boy. All perfectly innocent, but so were the black and white minstrels at one time. Things have a tendency to change with the passing of time.
Same with Christmas…
December 25th Around The World
The amalgam of holidays and rituals that come together at this time of year are not merely limited to the gathering of families, and sharing of home, hearth, food and gifts. And in places where winter is not a near-fatal experience that drives those to resort to sacred rites invoking the return of the sun, gathering together for survival is less essential than beating each other half to death to settle old scores.
In fact most cultures do something sometime around midwinter, most commonly on the 25th, and though the course of the calendar has shifted a little over the centuries so that the year’s shortest day (in the northern hemisphere) no longer falls on the exact date, it’s still incredible to think that almost everyone on the planet is coming together to celebrate at once. Some are political (India’s Good Governance Day, Taiwan’s Constitution Day), others are historic (Quaid-e-Azam Day, Malkh Festival), some atheists celebrate Newtonmas, the birthday of Sir Isaac Newton.
Famously, Axis soldiers invited Allied soldiers to a few games of football in no man’s land on Christmas day 1914, (Weihnachtsfrieden, Trêve de Noël) along with gift exchanges and photographs. Sadly the impromptu celebrations were not universal, and many soldiers suffered worse than foul-play during the truce, and the unsolicited camaraderie resulted in harsher orders coming down from the powers that be for fear that the common soldiery would start to doubt the war. Does that make the legendary day any less special? The incredible power of a single, universal day of joy shattered rivalries and broke the absolute rule of the officers and joined to nations at war at their most basic level.
I start my shopping in August, often before Christmas starts showing up in the warehouses of shops (although not much before, tinsel starts showing up before August is even over) so I not only spread the cost across months, I’m also immersed in presents for about a third of the year. I’m spreading cost, saving myself some effort in December, and thinking about other people more than I should as a retail worker. Yesterday I suffered with people coming to me with last flailing grabs for Christmas presents (a laptop is not an afterthought you over-paid halfwits) and resenting me for not having it in stock! Imagine the smugness I felt.
And yes, I like getting presents! My gaming group always get me the most awesome stuff, doesn’t matter how much they spend, be it a couple of pounds or a couple of dozen, they know me, and know exactly how to make me smile. I like to think I do right by them, this year I put together a kind of Loot-Crate style box of mini-presents, some generic, some specialised, sounds like I’ll be doing the same again next year, although with different stuff inside.
Oh, and thanks Tim for my present, you mean a lot to me too. It hasn’t stayed in the kitchen, it just photographed better against the kettle than the mantelpiece.