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Keeping the special times times of the year special

PUBLISHED: 08:22 04 November 2017

Back in the day you could see this sort of thing only in Advent. But now...

Back in the day you could see this sort of thing only in Advent. But now...

Archant

Keith Skipper bemoans the way a certain special time of the year is getting started earlier and earlier...

Yes, it does start earlier every year. In fact, I suspect the current frenzy over our Great Season of Too Much will be long and strong enough to render the 2018 festive party redundant.

A bizarre kind of “Buy One Get One Free” deal for those who like to plunder and blunder ahead without savouring each treat in turn, a wicked affront to precious tradition and the treasured tingle of childlike anticipation.

Well, greed, impatience and cynicism on the ever-lengthening road to the supermarket aisles and online grottos must be due to crowd themselves out after too many years of mocking the calendar and turning a festival built on love, family, gratitude and generosity into little more than a tawdry commercial serial.

“Planning ahead” and “Beating the rush” simply won’t wash as valid excuses for present-wrapping in July, organising seating arrangements in August for the big day over four months away, grabbing big tins of sweets and jars of gherkins in September and wondering why everybody else isn’t ready at the opening of October.

Sadly, quite a few shops are happy to make up for what they tend to see as lost selling time by unwrapping big window displays full of festive comfort and joy even before some of the more dubious delights of Halloween have inspired thousands of “spooktacular” puns and pranks.

Communities appear to try to outdo each other when it comes to turning on festive lights. The clear majority in this area now go for November just in case there are power cuts in the offing or Santa needs to fit in a few trial runs to keep pace with extra demands.

No wonder recent hordes of young half-termites appeared so ill at ease among the pumpkins, fireworks, festive crackers and countless other trimmings craving for attention. A long stalk of brussels sprouts lolling against a holly wreath merely added confusion to a retail scene overloaded with seasons.

Perhaps some stores will till this fertile patch even further by installing old-fashioned brantubs up the corner from mid-August for lucky dips to find out what might come next on the panic-buying list. With fireworks now in fashion throughout the year, sales of Catherine Wheels, Jumping Jacks and Roman Candles could rocket as our corn harvest ripens.

I was searching for a succinct summary of all this indecent haste when a woman in Aylsham took a lingering look at so many attractions on offer and sighed: “Nothing’s special any more”. Words carrying deep regret at the way significant occasions are being reduced to a brash game of leapfrog between jostling grown-ups with bemused children looking on.

My own small but heartfelt contribution to restoration of proper lore and order in the commercial jungle is to avoid using the magical ‘C’ word until the first day of December. That leaves plenty of scope to find the right spirit at the right time for giving and receiving and remembering what it’s truly all about.

This gesture of a campaign emerged in the early 1980s when I was a regular presenter on BBC Radio Norfolk. So many guests, contributors, listeners and colleagues insisted on chatting about you-know-what long before I deemed it acceptable to do so. I introduced a chart of on-the-spot fines – and struck a charity bonanza.

Transgressors had to make a small donation to Children in Need every time they jingled bells, hung up stockings, clambered down chimneys, offered cracker mottos, stirred pudding recipes or dropped names about certain reindeer. Mentioning the magical ‘C’ word itself without good cause meant an automatic one pound fine and banishment from the studio for 24 hours.

October takings topped £50. Boosted by clever-dicks being stung sharply for trying to get away with lines like “rebel without a Claus” and “draining sprouts in an advent colander”, the November kitty added over £220 to the station’s Children in Need total.

This did bring on a touch of the fiscal fantasies as I considered writing to the Treasury suggesting they conduct a similar sort of embargo on the high streets of all our main cities and towns. I calculated it might wipe out the National Debt within two years – and return December to its pin-up status as month with most to savour.

Then it dawned on me. They’d all be belting up and down Oxford Street looking for bargains well before it started to get late earlier.

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