Friday, 12 December 2014

That Time Of Year

I last celebrated xmas about 20 years ago. As such, I recommend this article The Gift of Death by George Monbiot. And this poem by Benjamin Zephaniah, performed here. And if you wore a jumper for Save The Children, consider this.

You want more? Here's a silly story I wrote back in 2000. It's not one that'll ever published, just a bit of unedited whimsy, but what do you expect for free? :-)



The Importance Of Being Humbug


December 22nd. Magnificent golden light shone horizontally across the silent library in the burg of Hushingdon. Peace was settled on that little place dedicated to the gathering of knowledge and dust, which swirled and danced in the shafts of light. The only sound was the turning of pages.
The Librarian sat at the Enquiry Desk, deciphering the Holy Trinity of mysteries that were Dewey, USMARC and XML. He knew that there was only one other person in the library – a trendy-looking blonde girl who had asked where The New Statesman was kept. Since then she had been sat in the centre of the reading room, surrounded by a dead forest of empty desks. She was intent and intense, and The Librarian couldn’t help but look over at her, for indeed, she was beautiful. Beautiful in a cold way – the beauty of a bright Winter’s morning, or the Ice Queen. Austere and something to worship, but possibly unforgiving.
Eventually the girl replaced the magazine, then headed for the exit while buttoning her coat. As she walked past the desk The Librarian felt his heart begin to race – she would go out of the doors and he would never see her again. He had to have some contact with her before then, however brief – otherwise he would always feel a loss somewhere inside, and he would have diminished in his own eyes for not having at least tried. To know something cannot be is one thing, and may only last a minute – to always wonder if it could have been would last for a whole life.
So as she walked past, and flashed him a smile at once demure and powerful, the beating of his heart propelled him to speak.
“Erm, happy Christmas,” he said, his voice half-breaking embarrassingly. He hadn’t spoken for some time.
“I don’t celebrate Christmas anymore,” the beautiful stranger replied.
He was surprised and asked “Oh? Why not?” then worried that he sounded critical.
She thought for a second. “Well, because there are no reasons for me to celebrate it, but a number of reasons not to.” Her words sank with the dust, and the books contemplated their weight.
“Oh.”
“Can I ask you a question?” She stepped closer as she spoke.
“Please do.”
“Let me ask you this: what are people actually celebrating at Christmas?”
He was surprised at her directness, and at how she made him feel. His mind only contained an image of her, and he couldn’t think of anything rational. “Oh. I don’t know really.”
She laughed, her voice cold and musical, enchanting. “Well that pretty much proves my point...”
“Hold on... Let me think a second... I guess I’m not celebrating anything in particular, you just... well, you just do.”
“Well I never do anything unless there is a good reason for it. And I certainly never do anything just because everyone else does. So if the only reason to celebrate Christmas is ‘just because everyone else does’ then I’ll skip it.”
The Librarian felt light-headed. She looked into his eyes for a second then turned to leave. Dammit! She couldn’t go yet! The feeling of being spellbound was not something that should end so soon!
“It’s traditional,” he blurted.
She turned again, grinning. “Maybe incest is too, but I wouldn’t do that. There have been times in our sad history when slavery was traditional; you could argue that wars still are. All the more reason to dump tradition.”
“Hmm, you’ve thought all this through haven’t you?”
“I’ve thought everything through. I don’t want to be a mindless zombie staggering through un-life without questioning anything. We’ve got minds, we should use them – and use them for good.”
“Well, Christmas does good.”
“Sure. That’s why there are more suicides at that time of year than at any other, huh? Family stresses coming to a head; expectations of bliss built up so high by advertising that we will always be disappointed; the sadness of the lonely at a time when everyone else seems to be having fun; the constant message that we should consume leading to depression for those who haven’t got any money. Christmas isn’t Capra you know. Or rather, it is but without the happy ending.”
“So you’re saying there’s no reason to celebrate Christmas?”
“Well it seems to me that there are two reasons – either it is celebrating the birth of Jesus, or it is a pure indulgence in consumerism. I’m not saying either of those is necessarily wrong, just that they aren’t reasons for me, since I don’t believe in either.
“I mean, Jesus – well, he wasn’t born at that time of year, was he? The bible doesn’t give a date for the nativity. The date was chosen because of pagan celebrations at that time, to try and wean ‘non-believers’ onto Christianity. That’s why the Puritans banned Christmas for a while – they saw it as the work of Satan, and arrested people for celebrating it. Nice one!” She chuckled, and put her hands into her pockets. “But if Jesus wasn’t born on 25th December then it’s a bit daft to celebrate his birth at that time.”
She took a step towards the desk. She was now only a few feet away from The Librarian. It seemed to him that if he kept her talking long enough she might even sit down. It was worth a try. Though he was getting a bit sick of talking about Christmas.
“What’s your name?” he asked, amazed at his own audacity.
“Chloe. What’s yours?”
“Colin. Colin the Librarian.” He straightened his back proudly.
“Hi Colin. As I was saying we then have the ‘consumerism rampant’ motif. It’s everywhere you go. The other day the supermarket car park was full at 9am, and people couldn’t even park because so many people were panic-shopping there. Why? It’s stupid. Christmas really is about consumption.”
“Yeah, but presents are nice, surely?”
“I’m not so sure about that. I remember the hassles they used to cause me, and the expense. I used to receive things I didn’t want, and probably bought things other people didn’t really need. All because we are told that we should.”
“Well my family don’t buy just rubbish – we spend a lot of thought on our presents,” Colin said defensively.
“I bet everyone says that. Okay, maybe you spend a lot of thought on it. But I don’t want to spend a lot of thought on it, what a waste of time! There are more important things to think about. And anyway, you might spend a lot of thought on presents but do you ever receive things that you don’t want?”
“Well...”
“I take it that’s a yes. And you don’t really know whether the presents you give are really appreciated either. Anyone can feign excitement out of politeness – Christmas develops that skill in people.”
“Cripes, you’re hard work.”
“No, you’re just making it easy on me. Come on, what else is good about celebrating Christmas?”
He wiped his brow. He was hot, but she was cooler by the minute, and wouldn’t let up on her attack. The snowstorm beat at him, dazzling his eyes, numbing him – but how merciful it would be if the snowstorm abated, and just the beauty remained! Maybe if he fought against the storm and came through it...? He thought. “I know! It’s a good opportunity to keep in touch!”
“I wondered when that old chestnut would arrive.” She took another step towards the desk. She now looked down on him. He wished she would sit. “Let me just say that I don’t need an ‘opportunity’ to keep in touch – I do it when I feel like it. Thinking of it like you do actually prevents communications during the rest of the year, and just leads to false sentiments at the end of it (and ridiculously delayed post because everyone decides it is a good opportunity to keep in touch at once...). To be honest, if I felt that I needed an ‘opportunity’ to keep in touch with someone then I would question whether I should keep in touch with them at all, they are obviously not close to my heart. So if you look at it that way, Christmas encourages you to keep in touch with people you have no real interest in – vague friends, people from the past, family you hate...”
“But –”
“Nuts. It’s like nuts – they’re nutritious and you should eat them all year round. But because of Christmas lots of people only associate them with one day of the year, munch them until they are sick, and don’t eat them for another 364 days! Sheer lunacy!”
“Yeah, but –”
“And you end up with card lists, and present lists as you tick off who you have sent to and received from, and panic if something comes on Christmas eve when you haven’t sent them anything... So they go on your list next year, and it’s another person you include even though you have no interest in them. Or you send one in case you get one, but you don’t, and that person then gets paranoid that they didn’t send you one... Cards become a way of incompatible people sticking together. Then they mostly go in landfill sites with wrapping paper and extraneous packaging, over 20,000 tonnes a year more waste just in the UK!”
“Erm, do you want to sit down Chloe?”
“Okay.” And she did!
They were on an equal level now. He decided to try and end it, with one powerful (if low) blow – so that something new could begin instead. “Okay then. But what about this – people who don’t celebrate Christmas shouldn’t get holidays then. Huh?” He grinned. Get out of that one, Batman!
“Christmas is just an excuse. The end of December is dark and cold and we all need a break, Christmas is irrelevant really. I need time off from work just like everyone else. I just don’t waste it on Christmas. If you prefer to make me work at that time of year fine, just give me additional days annual leave – that suits me.” She stared at him with her pale blue eyes, and he looked away.
“Ah,” he said. Pause. “Have you anything else bad to say about Christmas?”
“You sound sarcastic. I’m just getting going.”
“No, honestly, I’m not being sarcastic, I’m interested.”
“What about turkeys?”
“You what?”
“I don’t want to be a part of a celebration that causes the deaths of 38 million turkeys just in this one country. That leads to tens of thousands of them being crowded together for their truncated four months of life when they should live for up to fifteen years. For them to be confined in a cramped warehouse knowing only disease, smothering, heart attacks, and painful mutilations like de-beaking, or having their snoods cut off to inhibit ‘aggression’, or de-clawing without anaesthesia, and finally a long transport to the slaughterhouse. Did you know that, unable to support their abnormally heavy size and broad breasts after being fed growth hormones, more than 3 million birds suffer and die of heart attacks before reaching the slaughterhouse? Or that just one hundred thousand turkeys produce 15 tons of manure a year, polluting the environment? Or that –”
“Steady on, Chloe, you’ll put me off my dinner!”
“Good! But I’ll change the subject. What’s all that about having a ‘Christmas tree’? Why have a tree in the house? It seems stupid to me. They are either pitiful plastic specimens; real trees killed by having their roots severed; or foreign firs with their roots, which can then be planted – but we should be planting native woodland, not trees that do nothing for wildlife.”
“Fair enough. I can’t be bothered arguing anymore. You’ve worn me out. I’ll partially concede that Christmas has daft traditions. It maybe leads to cruelty. It’s not really religious. It encourages spending and sadness. But what’s the alternative? Being miserable?”
Laughing now, she stood. “Christmas is what makes people miserable! It makes the rest of the year seem boring by comparison. But to me every day is a celebration; I keep in touch only with people I like, when I like; I buy presents at any time that I see something I know someone really wants, not buying things just because it’s that time of year again.” Her voice was rising, and he could hardly hold her rebellious gaze. “I put my faith in the possibilities of human compassion and self-sufficiency rather than a dead god; I don’t eat turkeys, chickens, pigs or their testicles; I have parties just because; and I see every day as an opportunity. Yep, I’m miserable! Humbug! And I say once more – a gelatine-free humbug to one and all!”

She turned and walked out into the winter sunlight. And that was the last Colin ever saw of her. He felt an ache of loss that night when he lay in bed with his teddy; but he had spoken to her. He had been brave. He might even make a nut roast instead of eating turkey. And that was a seed of hope that one day might grow.
Share:

2 comments:

  1. This is a story that I could read again and again. Elements of humour within seriou points about humanity and our craziness.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks Alyson! I always saw this as a no-hoper of a story, it's nice if another person gets something from it. :-)

    ReplyDelete