Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Peace on earth, etc

It's started.

Got my first Christmas card yesterday, another one today. Time to decide what to do, Christmas-card-wise, this year.

Brought up in a determinedly secular family, I nonetheless spent decades innocently enjoying Christmas -- peace on earth and goodwill to persons, shiny things, good weather, heartbreaking music, Haigh's miniature plum-pudding chockies and so on. I love, in particular, the gift exchange, especially since I read Marcel Mauss's The Gift: '... the object that is given bears the identity of the giver. When the recipient receives the gift, they not only receive the object, but the association of that object with the identity of the giver.' I love this book because it explains so much, not least the reason why I can never bring myself to Feng Shui my house.

And most of all I love the music. The real music, carols sung traditional and straight as per Kings College Choir, I mean, not the pop/populist horrors. Sing O Holy Night to me and I'm anybody's.

So it was a shock when, some time in the early 1990s, a few of the cooler and younger dudes at the staff Christmas party gathered in a corner when the carol-singing started up and began muttering about 'the Christians'. It dawned on me, much more slowly than it should have, that these neo-Scrooges were up in arms at the ideological unsoundness of the rest of us in having the lack of coolth to be singing carols (though I did notice at the time that they had turned up all right and were scoffing the indifferent wine), and by 'the Christians' they meant, among other people, me.

So here's what I wondered then and still wonder now: is it really required of one that one not celebrate Christmas in any way unless one is a card-carrying Christian, which I most certainly am not? I was in awe of the cool young dudes at the time because they had read a lot of stuff that was unfamiliar to me, but that was then and this is now. And I now think that they were being a bunch of literal-minded, censorious, po-faced young prudes and I wish South Park had been invented to take the p*ss out of them.

But now that the effing Christian fundamentalists seem to be taking over the world, it's not that I can't see the young dudes' point. Amanda Marcotte at Pandagon spells it out in this hysterical post from a few days ago (thank you crikey).

The trap there is, as always, reacting too far in the other direction. This is hard for Pavlov's Cat not to do when instructions come straight from someone called The Great Cat, but so far I am standing firmish.

For the Christmas mindset and aesthetic is a social, public thing. Seems to me that unless people are formally entrenched in some other belief system, and good on them if they are, Christmas for most westerners means that whether one likes it or not, one is saturated in memory and surrounded by celebration.

And you've got two choices: either you engage, or you go into denial about both your immediate social and physical surroundings and your whole elaborate interior palace of memory and selfhood. Engagement isn't necessarily pleasant, and for many, possibly these days even for most, there is an excruciating cat's-cradle of family negotiations to be got through -- the ambivalent stepchildren, the partner's hostile grown-up children, the siblings' bonkers partners, the widowed parent's new spouse's bonkers grown-up children (and here I speak from the heart), and so on and so forth. But denial seems worse: not just po-faced but icy-hearted as well.

So the Christmas Trifle will get made again this year: strawberries, raspberries, honey-poached fresh cherries, macaroons, syllabub etc etc. The tree will go up, the presents be wrapped, and the Kings' choir be sung along with whenever the telecast is, though I do draw the line at red felt antlers on the cats, who would never tolerate such a thing in any case.

And if anyone says Merry Christmas to me, then call me Forrest Gump if you will, but I'll resist the assumption that they're actually saying 'F*ck you' unless the greeting is accompanied by a rude hand gesture or a right hook to the jaw. I'll assume that what they're actually saying is, well, Merry Christmas.


elsewhere said...

Onya Pavlov (oops, almost wrote Pavlova)! Christmas is a great time for receiving chilli chocolate and other such delights from people in your office whom otherwise despise you and vice versa.

If you're interested, one of those British socialist lesbian feminists wrote an article called 'Red Christmas' about the trials of celebrating Christmas as a British socialist lesbian feminist and single mother of a son...But I can't remember anything more than that, except that it was in an anthology of her essays in the same stripey volumed series as 'The Pirate's Fiancee.' Unfortunately, her name totally escapes me now.

(Well, what could you expect from That Department? A certain person thought sundried tomatoes at a social function was excessive.)

Pavlov's Cat said...

Chilli chocolate?

Erm ... why? I am reminded here of Bertie Bott's Every Flavour Beans.

'Red Christmas' got past me, like so much else in life, but it sounds like a hoot. If she has become a blogger, she'll be getting flamed by RWDBs on almost every count you list: socialist, lesbian, feminist, single mother ...

Anonymous said...

Now I don't know whether to send Pavlov a Christmas card or not. It is clear the corner mutterers could not sing, but as this characteristic is not uncomplicatedly cool, had to refuse in more anti- ways.
Now that I've had children, Christmas seems both more horrendously commercial, and also a lot more fun. My 5 year old's list includes 'horses (4)', 'bubble gum', and 'calves'. The calves aren't due til April, unless she means the other kind, in which case, with luck, she'll inherit her father's. I want chilli chocolate...

Pavlov's Cat said...

Anonymous needs to know that PC really loves getting Christmas cards, particularly glitter cards from children. It's just that, in some tiny corner of her being, she still thinks she ought not to enjoy it. (PC would also like to point out that she didn't realise what her initials would be until it was too late ...)