Advent Firesiders

Differentiation (2007)

One of the main points about a festival is that it's different from the everyday: you fatten an animal or a bird; you hoard sugar; you bake cakes; you preserve fruit; you lay down wine so that it will mature at the right time. You count the days of scrimping and self denial until that glorious moment when the bottle is uncorked and the meat is carved and you are only half way through that when existentialism deserts you (therein a pun) and all you can think about is chocolate and cake.

But the trouble is, you don't. Christmas isn't something that is preceded by a long period of delayed gratification, of self denial, of scrimping and saving. If there is any of that it takes place after the event in January when we get sick of fricassee of turkey at about the same time as the credit card bill hits the mat. Rather than being a period of quiet self denial, Advent is a period of feverish consumption. Most of us don't sit back in July and bake the Christmas cake, let alone lay down wine that will be right for the festive season years hence; the farthest we might get is the odd bottle of sloe gin.

Neither is the Advent Calendar an object of reverent preparation; far from making us long for chocolate after the last door is opened, it delivers a morsel with every enquiry.

So if we want to preserve the differentiation of Christmas in particular, maybe it's time to turn our platitudes about the over commercialisation of Christmas into real action or, rather, inaction, by celebrating the birth of our Saviour with the kind of meal his parents might have eaten, brought out to them from the inn; a day without meat and wine, cake and chocolate and even tea and coffee; and, instead, a little bread and a few vegetables washed down with thin, sour ale. We might, too, consider leaving the television and radio off and even abandoning all that vacuous music, not least the Carol that misunderstands the symbolism of holly by rhyming it with jolly!

I don't want us to be miserable - far from it - and I certainly don't want to be accused of "Bah, Humbug!"; just the opposite. I want us to celebrate the unique event of the incarnation by making the day radically different from the rest of our comfortable, even self indulgent, lives; and I promise we can all eat and drink as much as we like on Boxing Day except, of course, that we would then spend our frugal Christmas not only champing on the bread but also at the bit.