Still searching for a Christmas without cynicism

An old-fashioned Christmas card with a timeless edge. Mistletoe, holly and a beaming face full of g

An old-fashioned Christmas card with a timeless edge. Mistletoe, holly and a beaming face full of great expectations make perfect decorations as we wait for more joys to share with family and friends - Credit: Archant

What has become of Christmas in the 21st century? Keith Skipper has his own unique take on the season of festive over indulgence

A good snuffle at the end of November and a streaming cold at the start of December helped prepare me for a few harsh ho-ho-ho-home truths regarding our Great Season of Too Much.

It's been a relatively short lurch from general election polling booth to general mayhem around the festive grotto where we can all lose our deposits of patience, poise and proper husbandry.

There must be more to this than extreme spending, scowling, shoving and sighing. It starts as soon as the corn harvest has been safely gathered in. We scoff every year at such indecent haste - and then get carried along on a massive tide of commercialism.

Bookies are already taking bets on which Norfolk community will be first in 2020 to turn on Christmas lights and where a bronzed figure could be initially spotted sneaking into a store for a red suit fitting behind big boxes of crackers and jars of pickled onions.

We gorge and slurp, snooze and burp, play hunt the television remote control and give thanks for priceless traditions like shrill adverts for sun-kissed holidays and bumper sales bargains.

There's something uncannily predictable about something so eagerly anticipated.

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So how can the jaded spirit revive and find a dash of that old yuletide magic to banish dark powers of cynicism and incessant selling? Well, a little abstinence can make the Christmas heart grow fonder, I don't simply mean laying off the sherry until Santa steals his heart-warming way from the promised land.

There's no obvious reason why a blessed campaign built on giving and receiving should not be confined to about three weeks. Plenty long enough for wallets to empty, hearts to fill and turkeys to wonder why they're getting so many affectionate glances.

Hang on, I can hear echoes of how the great debate over Sunday trading panned out some money-grabbing years ago. It soon became clear strong principles built on declarations of loyalty to a day worth keeping special simply crumbled when rivals voted for "economic progress and wider choice for customers".

A more concentrated Christmas might not suit manufacturers, suppliers, shops and advertising sages well versed in carolling for customers even while combines are charging through golden acres.

Too many folk given to impulse present-buying on any leg of the January to December journey could complain about their human rights and retail therapy instincts being undermined by boring old festive fundamentalists.

I appreciate an optimist is someone who sets aside an afternoon to go Christmas shopping, all too often purchasing this year's gifts with next year's money. But there's no excuse for hordes of nervous novices wandering up and down the aisles from September, barking into mobile phones for guidance from loved ones destined to sort out their own surprises.

It's almost enough to conjure up the puckish ghost of a country mawther I encountered over half-a-century ago as she boarded the bus for her annual spree in East Dereham. She addressed the gathering thus: "Here we go agin - spendin' munny we hent got on things they dunt want for people we dunt like".

Hers were the heaviest bags blocking progress to other seats on the way back.

Whatever the time frame and however strong the urge to dismiss this whole business as a barmy commercial frenzy, we must find room to embrace three uplifting ways of discovering an uncluttered path to the sort of Christmas worth celebrating - listening, longing and laughing.

If you can't get to a nativity play or carol service, tune into a relative, friend or neighbour sharing their longing for some qualities of the old-style festive season. Chances are you'll chuckle at a simple faith in nostalgia and tell each other stories that improve with every airing as bells of togetherness ring out.

There's always room for saucy lines about how mother-in-law came to stay for 22 successive Christmas Days. Then you finally relented and let her in. And how it was five a side to a cracker for big families in the good old days when a penny had to go a long way.

A shiny one of those to go with your thoughts and this clarion call from American writer Washington Irving, creator of Rip van Winkle: "It is, indeed, the season of regenerated feeling, the season for kindling, not merely the fire of hospitality in the hall, but the genial flame of charity in the heart".