Christmas is cunning
They know how to get us worked up. Pulling at heart strings and throwing magical cloaks of aspirational perfection around like it’s a best friends’ wedding. And yes, we can’t get enough of it. The pre Christmas run up is a media frenzy. From the adverts to the TV programming schedule, their mission is to bring us to the heights of intoxicated anticipation, oh my.
From the ‘lump in my throat’, emotional intelligence of John Lewis, to the cringe able, (and shameless) commercialism of Littlewoods and Iceland, (sorry Stacey). We’re on situation overload with Strictly, Xcrement factor (that isn’t my word btw, I’ve adopted it from their twitter fans, so it is said with fondness and festive familiarity) and I’m A Celebrity. Strictly appears as the mature, elegant parent whilst the kids (from what I’ve seen) are in teenage catfight mode. I ‘d put Gary (Barlow), Pat Sharp and Antony Cotton in the same female dog category, that jungle environment sure does bring out the best in them.
No matter, Christmas is perennial charm personified. The inescapable and often cathartic reflection of 2011 will kick in a little closer to the New Year (thankfully) so we’re able to indulge in the merriment and the undeniable romance of log fires, snowy vistas, spicy mulled wine and being snuggled up with our favourite people. We aspire to picture perfect idealism, why the hell not?
I was blown away to see £26M raised by Children in Need last weekend – made me feel proud (as I frequently do) to be British. I’m all for global help and charity but sometimes I think we forget what horror exists in our country for some folk and in particular for some children. Well done everyone, awesome effort and a jaw dropping result during such tough times.
Nearly time for the first chocolate
I was having a little think about the strategic efforts of all these things combined. To make us laugh, lead us to that promised flawlessness and to imagining (of course) that if we shop at John Lewis (they take every credit card you can think of) our Christmas will indeed, be unblemished precision. We’re easy to manipulate. This Sunday is the first Sunday of Advent. I’m lucky. I live in a beautiful North East coastal village (only for the next two weeks though, yikes) where a Franciscan friary (that’s friary not fairy) nestles atop a hill over looking a sleepy but stunning bay. It’s a very special place that has drawn me like a magnet since returning north a couple of years ago. The friars who reside there (all men) work tirelessly with the community, run spiritual (religious) retreats and pursue their own devotion to God. It is a lengthy, meaningful and very deliberate process to become a fully fledged friar. It is this process and commitment that has led me to consider the almost incomparable paradigms of behaviour and existence, particularly at this time of year and in the midst of our global economic and social issues.
To become a friar the guys take vows of chastity, obedience and poverty. That’s right. These are people just like us, in the same world, who find everything they need within themselves and within god. Now, I’m not suggesting radical life change but what has been going through my mind is how good we are at setting ourselves up for a fall. I’m thinking of the December – January transition, the ghastly reality of purchases bought on the ‘never never’ and the credit card statement that renders us white faced and faint. The brothers at the friary, I guarantee, will remain contented, happy, fulfilled and a pleasure to be around.
I’d be the first to admit that a quiet life would not sit easily with me (at least not yet). I enjoy the ricochet of challenge that inevitably means the pleasure of success as well as the perils of failure. No, what I have in mind, is a little more extreme. If we persuaded all of the retailers to back a season of austerity rather than gluttony, could that mark the beginning of a year filled with hope rather than dread? What if the £5m John Lewis promo ad was geared towards ‘making do’ and the only food on offer was fresh and wholesome? What if having a frugal Christmas became the new trend in a militant bid to get people back on their feet? What if making purchases was limited to small businesses that proactively support fair-trade and entrepreneurialism? Sure, the fat cats would take a hit. We’d have to do without the delights of Stacy Solomon and to a lesser degree Andrew Flintoff. I think we could manage. Surely the selflessness that these retail giants could demonstrate would be a PR coup worthy of sacrifice? There is more to this rich tapestry. Time and material excess means we feel obliged to bow to media pressure and in so doing, give ourselves all sorts of emotional stress and worry by spending above our means. We get farther and farther away from endorsing the things that are obvious and that matter so much to us (I’ve used this phrase twice in recent weeks, in different contexts but no less heartfelt).
That’s exactly what has happened within the bounds of health. Anyone reading my blog more than once will know that I’m a consummate fan of channel 4’s Food Hospital. One of the cases this week was Tristan, a 31yr old guy concerned about his eczema. I callously wondered why that was his primary concern. He was a big chap. The doc asked how much he thought he weighed, 25 Stone was his answer, he was actually 34 stone. What’s 9 stone between friends? His BMI was 68, he had no idea. Blimey.
I quite like the word delusional. It has come up in conversation many times in recent weeks in relation to a few people and/or situations. I’d even say that I, myself, could have been described as somewhat deluded in years past. I rather hope it isn’t a word very often used to describe me these days but I’d graciously accept opinions to the contrary.