Ask me how I know? Well, it's partly the feeding frenzy that's going on at the supermarket; a cashier was telling me ten days ago that it was getting busier and busier and likely to be unrelenting elbow-brandishing, trolley barging, turkey-grabbing mayhem from now until the New Year. (On reflection I'm not sure that you can brandish your elbows but you know what I mean).
|Ooh. Spoiled for choice.|
So people start stocking up for Christmas in November. Why? Perhaps we think that the supermarkets will run out of food before 25 December and so we'd better stockpile the essentials ahead of time. By 'essentials' I mean vast tubs of chocolates, biscuits for cheese that we only buy in bulk at Christmas, every last variety of alcohol known to man just in case someone asks for an exotic drink over the festive season and we only have red wine or half a bottle of leftover rum destined for the Christmas Pudding. Perish the thought that we might have some comestible unavailable to us in the Closed Shop period, which is, after all, smaller every year and set to be only an hour and a half on Christmas afternoon before long.
On 26 December there we'll be back with the car boot open loading in more festive multipacks in time for the New Year's Orgy of Eating.
That sounded very scathing, didn't it? Sorry about that. I'm as bad as the next person. We have family to stay over Christmas and I love to have lots of treats to eat. I am very much a fan of eating. I like to have things to nibble, nice meals to linger over, good wine to celebrate with. I just need to remember that there are only so many meals we can eat; only so much that we are physically able to consume. Common sense. I've bought my Christmas Pudding already, and have to brag about a (rare) moment of insight where I realised that we don't actually like Christmas Pudding that much, so we bought a small mid-range one, rather than a Best/Finest/Superior/Luxury whopper that we've had (and kept on reheating) in previous years. It's enough to set fire to and then have a token mouthful of. Does that count as great restraint?
|Now. Where to start...|
Not really. As I sit here my kitchen stool will testify that I am heavier than I was in the middle of the year and as I gaze at the oncoming juggernaut of Christmas in the same way as a small rabbit, wide eyed and immobile in the middle of the road, I realise how bad I am at self-control. On many levels.
This year things are likely to be leaner than previous years for everyone because everyone is short of money, or so we're hearing on the news anyway. Doesn't seem to be any sign of that in the supermarket. All that's going to happen is that we spend too much, eat too much, then whinge too much in the New Year when we step on the scales and open the credit card bills. It's not very impressive, really, is it? It doesn't honour you that much, does it? I imagine you look at us and wonder how far from a stable in Bethlehem it's possible to get.
You came to earth with nothing. You gave us the best, most breathtakingly generous, priceless gift we will ever have, and Christmas is about celebrating your Birthday. The day when the Word became Flesh. The God With Us day. The day when heaven and earth met. You didn't split the sky with explosive magnificence and announce your presence in glory and majesty as you will one day, you were born in the usual way with blood and amniotic fluid in a smelly old stable and you lay surrounded with scratchy straw and grubby animals.
|Don't mind if I do...|
How does that translate itself over the centuries into a few days of excessive eating and drinking? How come we now thrust presents at each other that we've bought with money we don't have? We wander the shops grabbing inconsequential items that'll do for someone's present - we don't often shop with love and consideration because there's just too much of it. Too much spending. Too much giving of token gifts. We give with one hand and collect with the other and sometimes we're delighted and sometimes we pretend (and if you're a small child of the kind we have in this house, sometimes you discard with obvious disappointment) and this year for me it just seems silly. More than silly, it seems somehow obscene.
No doubt I'll still do it. No doubt I'll drown my qualms in a glass or three of mulled wine and comfort myself with a mince pie with brandy cream. I haven't made my Christmas shopping list yet but my cards are ready to write and the cupboard is filling with items towards an extravagant Christmas menu. I am very good at eating and drinking and I like a nice present to unwrap as much as the next person (unless the next person is either of my two girls, who just go crazy at present time. More on that no doubt later).
I'm not about to announce a Christmas of Austerity where we don't decorate the house, we don't eat until we need antacids and we don't end up with a bin bag full of wrapping paper, so I suppose there's an element of hypocrisy in any conversation that I start on this subject. Just now and again, I stop in a sea of consumerism and I think about you and the people and trolleys and elbows swirl round me and I stop - and then I start again. Like a mackerel swimming with the shoal.
|Oh go on then. Maybe just one. |
Sigh. What can I say, Lord? I'm sorry we've made your birthday something different from that you intended it to be. If we offer you heartfelt carol-singing and an honestly meaningful church service or two, does it make up for the selfishness and madness and conspicuous consumption? We have so much and yet we insist on even more. When I think about the immense tracts of the planet who won't be celebrating Christmas with food and drink and gifts and then turn back to our shopping centres it makes me feel a bit sick. But if I'm honest, I squash that feeling and go back to making lists and flexing the plastic, don't I?
I love Christmas. I love the decorations, I love the lights, I love the joy and the fun and the family and the laughter and preparing the food and sharing silly jokes in crackers and watching someone I love open a present from me. I love the children's faces when they see their stockings and I love carols and I love that you actually laid aside your majesty, as the song goes, and came to meet us here on this beautiful, broken planet. I love all this. I just wonder if we can't have all that and still not miss the point?
Show me, this Christmas, the meaning of it, Father God. Help me curb the worst of my excesses because it's not good and it's not going to be a happy January if I make my weighing scales situation any worse than it is already.
Show me Jesus in Christmas. All that 'the reason for the season' stuff. We've even managed to make a cliche out of that, haven't we?
Show me the angels singing, and the star shining and the shepherds realising that the tiny baby in front of them is the Son of God. Show me Mary, cradling her newborn baby with some realisation of who he is but no idea of the magnitude of what lies ahead. Show me the baby in the manger who is somehow helpless and totally dependent but God as well. Show me the wonder and the beauty and the truth of Christmas and help me keep my eyes on you to see it, rather than just focusing on the bit that says, 'Please enter PIN now'.