They sold me a dream of Christmas

At the risk of being likened to dear old Ebenezer Scrooge, and a possible tongue-lashing from the family, dare I suggest that the imminent arrival of the Christmas season is possibly not the magical event that the media would have us believe.

Yes, I know, it’s the season of goodwill and all that; a time for giving gifts and being with family and, if you’re lucky, days in front of the fire, eating to excess and watching endless repeats on the TV. There’s the shopping! Shopping for gifts, shopping for the food and drink we need to see us through, and then there are the sales. What would Christmas be without the sales? Well, relaxed for one thing!

In the days before Christmas, you can see whole families staggering out of Asda or Tesco, trollies positively laden with enough food to feed a small army for a month. I often wonder just how much of those essential, must have provisions end up in the bin. I hold my hands up here; we have been guilty of this in the past, over buying food that we simply cannot eat before it goes rotten. We get wrapped up in the excess of the whole thing and felt compelled to buy up anything that looks remotely festive, even if we aren’t sure we would actually ever eat it.

And why do we buy so much? after all, the shops are only closed for two days, if that. It’s not as if there is going to be a shortage of food in the days immediately after Christmas.

Then there are the sales. Forgive my ignorance here, but why does anyone need to be out at the crack of dawn on Boxing Day? Whatever happened to the January sales starting in January? Do those retail addicts who insist on pandering to the retailer’s greed give a moments thought to the poor souls who have to give up their Christmas just to ensure that they can get their hands on a half-price jacket before the turkey is cold. Maybe if they all stayed away from the shops until after Boxing Day the staff would get to have their holiday as well.

I really feel sorry for the shop staff who have to work over the holiday period for no good reason. I know that there are others who also have to work normally over the holiday season; our emergency services, nursing and care staff, and utility providers amongst others.

As far as I can see, Christmas is a very stressful time of year. The pressure to buy the right presents, to stock up with the right food and drink, and trying to get around all the family, to spend time with people you only see once a year, and to keep on smiling no matter how bad the whole things gets, can be immense. Why do we do this to ourselves?

We do it because, despite all the commercialism and the stress, the spirit of Christmas remains as strong as ever. Whether you are religious or not, it is difficult to avoid being swept up by the whole religious thing. But whatever our beliefs or circumstances, we all need something to look forward to, something beyond the everyday routine. And for most of us, Christmas provides just such a break from the mundane. I for one am going to make the best of the break. It may be over commercialised, it may be stressful and often feel meaningless, but it is one of the few times of the year when most of us, me included, can relax and take stock.

And that is exactly what I intend to do.

And finally… the title of this little blog is taken from one of my favourite Christmas songs: I Believe In Father Christmas by Greg Lake. I love the sentiment as much as the tune itself. Nobody writes good Christmas songs anymore.

We survived Friday 13th

Now I am not a particularly superstitious person, but even I take extra care on Friday 13th. Well, who doesn’t? But other than that I don’t take much notice of the usual signs and portents that seem to send so many other people into paroxysms of fear.

It is all nonsense after all. The very idea that simply by smashing a mirror or walking under a ladder you are opening yourself up to any more bad luck than you would face anyway is absurd. I have deliberately walked under many a ladder in my time, and nothing has ever happened as a result. I haven’t even been the victim of the most obvious piece of bad luck, having something fall on me as I passed beneath.

But the coming of Friday 13th is something different. With enough people believing in the worst, it is inevitable that eventually, the worst will happen. So I tend to take more care than usual. But as the days of the calendar are arbitrary and not linked in any way to anything natural, the whole idea that this particular day is somehow ill-fated is particularly absurd.

But there are some very different view of superstition. Some of the worst people for taking superstitions seriously are actors. There are so many things you can’t do or say backstage at the theatre it’s a wonder they manage to do anything at all. Never say good luck, never mention Macbeth (it is always referred to as the Scotish play), and never whistle are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Almost every actor seems to have their own little rituals that they must go through before, during or after each performance.

Another thing I have noticed is that the people who avoid black cats and cracks in the pavement are generally the same people who fall for tales of hauntings and visiting spirits. And once again, theatrical types fall into this trap as well. So many theatres claim to be haunted, but it is only those who work there that seem to believe it all. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a good ghost story or horror film, but that is all they are, stories. It isn’t real.

So what exactly is a superstition? I think it is best defined as a belief that by some form of magic or other ethereal power, simple actions or objects can influence events around us. Basically, it stems from ignorance and a desire to apportion blame when things go wrong. It is not too dissimilar from the way people pointed fingers at “witches” in the Middle Ages or God. Rather than accept that we ourselves may at fault for something that has happened, we naturally look around us for someone, or something else, to take the blame. It is a lack of understanding and a willingness to welcome the easy answer that leads many people to accept a belief that something else is guiding or influencing our actions.

Aside from the obvious absurdity of it all, I have often wondered where some of these ideas come from. I mean, why should putting shoes on a table, or opening up an umbrella inside be linked in any way to misfortune or disaster? Aside from the obvious that is. I mean, anyone putting up an umbrella in a house is inviting trouble by their very proximity to light fittings, ornaments and other people. It stands to reason. Many old wives tales and myths have some basis in fact. Even some religious rites can be traced back to practical considerations of a more ignorant time, but superstitions are a little different. I suppose that in some cases they are born out of a form of reality. You make a change in your routine and something bad happens, there is a natural inclination to see the change as the cause, concluding that it was the deviation from previous acts that are to blame.

To me, superstition and religion and inexorably intertwined. I can see very little difference between them as they are both built on the premise of a belief in things we cannot see or explain, and a desire to pass responsibility for our actions on to someone else.

Whilst I have no time myself for superstition or religion, I do have sympathy for those that do. People can become obsessed with their belief in them and it can make their lives unnecessarily difficult. But however irrational their fears or ignorant their beliefs, when they are sincerely held they need to be handled with care and understanding. I have never mocked or ridiculed anyone for the beliefs. I may question them, but I would never dream of trying to undermine anyone’s faith, at least not to their face.