By now it’s all done – the decorating, the wrapping, the cooking, the carol concerts, nativity plays and pantomimes, the office parties and the shopping. We have all got to where we need to get to geographically and the day and time is upon us.
Those who are still expected should be arriving at any minute and hopefully arguments and differences of opinion can be set aside for a time. As the day unfolds beginning with the peace of a church service followed by lunch, the old familiar thoughts swirl: can I indeed have just a little more of the chestnut stuffing, where is the brandy butter? Is everyone wearing party hats? Where are the dogs? What has happened to the television remote? (one of the puppies ate one last week). If anyone can move, shall we go for a walk?
Later, everyone subsides into not doing a lot, quiet chats to catch up on news, a jigsaw puzzle is going strong and unbelievably it will soon be time for some sort of supper….
It is the one day in the year that everyone stops. Some may call it just a holiday, others acknowledge it as “Christmas”. The word “holiday” however comes from the phrase “holy day” so no one quite escapes the spiritual underpinnings of this time of year which celebrates life and hope – we are more than just our physical bodies which seem to get ever more creaky over the years.
The days after Christmas are precious as well – days without schedules and time pressure, days to wander and think. If you follow the Christmas story, then December 25th is just the beginning of the twelve days of the festive season. Boxing day is the Feast of St Stephen, December 27th the Feast of St John, the feast day of St Thomas a Becket is December 29th whilst New Years’s Eve is the Feast of St Sylvester.
The feasting and merrymaking climaxed on Twelfth Night, the 5th January, the traditional end of the Christmas season. William Shakespeare used it as the setting for one of his most famous comedies (Twelfth Night), in which everything is topsy turvy, a sort of licensed disorder.
Then, to avoid bad luck, all the Christmas decorations have to be taken down by January 6th.
For my own part, I value this time as slow time, time to walk, time to simply be, whilst at Highclere everyone takes time off before reconvening in the New Year to begin once again. We all need a break.
It was Charles Dickens who introduced us to the kindlier aspects of Christmas – thinking of others, looking after those who are less fortunate, the ideas of sharing and goodwill. To quote Dickens “Every traveller has a home of his own, and he learns to appreciate it the more from his wandering.”
When A Christmas Carol was published on 19th December 1843, Charles Dickens was only 31 years old and his previous novel was not selling at all well. However, the first run of A Christmas Carol sold out before Christmas and it has never been out of print since.
Above all, apart from enjoying the delicious food and the company of loved ones, Christmas is ultimately about stopping to remember what we have in common with each other:
“I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round—apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that—as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.”