It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas shopping season. Aisles packed with frantic parents trying to remember what size shirt their teenage son is, or frustrated Dads charging past a mechanical reindeer that glides past the shop entrances. With an artificial tree several floors high and a Santa’s grotto with queues that would make retail CEOs weak at the knees. Crawley County Mall looks just like a Christmas card, albeit one you send in jest to a close friend to bemoan the festive season in the twenty-first century.
I myself was doing a spot of festive shopping a couple of weeks ago, and considering how busy it was then, I dread to think how it is now. But a particular scene in River Island really got to me: I was queuing to buy some clothes when I heard a young girl ask “Mum, ow many days until Santa comes?” There was a pause while Mum did the maths, before she replied “34.” The girl’s response? “But that’s aaaaaaaages away.”
My God. The little primary school girl had hit the big red man with the long white beard square in the face with a barrage of snowballs. She doesn’t understand why on earth we should be getting in the Christmas mood in November any more than we do, except we just shrug it off and occasionally shake our fists at the retail giants who shove mince pies down our throats at the earliest opportunity.
Believe me, I understand it’s good to get ahead of the game and buy presents now before it gets really stressful, and some retailers only stay afloat thanks to the festive period. But I want to hear “Fairytale of New York” for the first time when I start opening the doors on my advent calendar, not forced upon me by a fuzzy speaker next to a bleary eyed elf who looks ready to drown themselves in eggnog.
I know some stubborn purists and borderline Scrooges who are worse than me and insist Christmas belongs to Christmas Day itself, and not a day earlier. I suppose I sit comfortably in the middle; once the advent calendar has begun, so does my festive spirit. Out comes a colossal yuletide playlist, mince pies are always waiting in my kitchen cupboard, and I’m never seen without my Christmas jumper. I’ve had the same one for three years now, and never felt the need to change it; it has all the festive qualities without the weird knobbly bits that look so unflattering.
A month of Christmas shenanigans is enough for me. In my books, extending the festive season in to November removes some of the magic that makes Christmas so special; that feeling we long for each time it comes round. Yet that only reinforces just how diverse Christmas is, even within your own country. For many in times of hardship, be those economic or personal, Christmas is a constant that we can rely on to come about and spread peace and goodwill. Numerous renditions of Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas stress the importance of temporarily forgetting your troubles so that they do not constantly weigh you down.
In fact, the more I think about it, who am I to bemoan a source of comfort to those who really need it? If it really does roast your chestnuts, the best thing to do is to keep it to yourself, like all the other annoyances you deal with on a daily basis. So, if you were to ask when does the festive season actually begin, I guess there are two answers to my question: Christmas Day will always be the main source of celebrations, but otherwise Christmas begins when you want it to. Just make sure you go into it with all guns blazing.