We got our first Christmas card this year, appropriately enough, on 1st December from friends David and Kay Dunham.  Since then, there’s been a steady trickle of cards, so the house is beginning to look a lot like Christmas. But it’s not like it used to be, when everyone sent a card to everyone, and every flat surface you had was covered with cards.  When I was a kid, they would be attached to strips of crepe paper and dangled down the walls. Nowadays the cards are not as plentiful with a lot of greetings being electronic, and I have to admit, I am certainly not as diligent as I used to be – in fact far from. (That’s me doing a quick apology to everyone who doesn’t get a card from us this year.)

When you’re a kid you think that Christmas is going to be exactly the same forever.  You’re going to get the same excitement, the same people are going to be there for Christmas dinner and the same aunts and uncles, who are not really your aunts and uncles, but they bear gifts, pop in to wish everyone a merry Christmas and you become the proud owner of something you hadn’t even asked Father Christmas for.  But of course, times change. Nothing remains the same. At the age of ten I was over the moon if I got a Swoppet soldier I hadn’t been expecting.  Those of you who are not familiar with Swoppets, they were small action figures with interchangeable parts and props. I don’t suppose very exiting by today’s standard, but as the idea of electronic games had not yet even entered the world of science fiction, then a Swoppet was pretty cutting edge. What’s available at Christmas is now mind blowing.  I heard a story the other day about a school’s nativity play.  One of the mother’s little innocent offspring was giving their interpretation of a shepherd. The mother, wanting to aid as much as she could in her five-year-olds Stanislavski approach to the role, purchased a shepherd’s costume from Amazon, along with a blow-up sheep.  The mother was more than upset when one of the teacher’s told her to take the sheep home and this was before it had even been inflated.   Hurt and confused she took the sheep home and decided if the school didn’t want it, she’d blow it up and display it in the front garden along with an illumination of Christmas lights. It wasn’t until she had the fully inflated sheep positioned in pride of place on her front lawn, surrounded by glittering and flashing LED white micro string lights, that she realised why the teacher had reacted in the way they had – the sheep, which prominently displayed certain orifices, as well as bright red lipstick and come-hither eyelashes, was a sex toy. Now of course this story has a certain comic flare, but it also has a very worrying element.  How did the teacher know it was a sex toy without blowing it up? Think about it.

This year, especially, Christmas is going to be different. But will it be remembered in the way we remembered those few and far between Christmas Days that were actually white.  Fifty years from now, will some writer be telling tales of the COVID Christmas where he only saw his immediate family, but nevertheless got a present worth as much as the GDP of certain Third World Countries, while at the same time his parents exchanged Christmas gifts wrapped in recyclable paper, revealing matching ‘Save The World’ tee shirts made in some sweat shop in China, forgetting completely that China was possibly the reason Christmas dinner was only for the immediate family and one of the reasons his parents wanted to save the world was because China was pumping out more carbon emissions than any other country in the world.  So here’s the winners of the 2020 emissions belching championship.  The consensus of opinion is – in third place we have … India with 7% of the global emissions. In second place with 15%, is the good old US of A.  And drum roll please … this year’s winner, way past the winning post before anyone else, with 28% is … you got it – China!!!!  Big round of applause please.  The UK is responsible for just 1% of global emissions, so as flights are responsible for 2% of all global emissions, then I guess no more package holidays in Torremolinos or business trips to the Far East or going to weddings in Italy.   

Like so many things we prefer to complain about the problems that are the product of a bigger problem.  It’s easier to argue and whinge about which tier you’re in and how the government have got it wrong, than about the actual cause of the problem itself. As it’s easier to have fun by having a jamboree for some cause or other, holding up thousands of people lives, while consuming copious amounts of fast-food hamburgers and smoking enough cigarettes to give the average club performer lung cancer. 

Is it simply because nobody is prepared to take on China?  They’re too big, too rich and the loss of life, isn’t as precious to them, as it is us – as demonstrated indisputably with the Tiananmen Square protests.  And in that age old Chinese tradition of transparency – yeah right – it has been estimated that the death toll was somewhere between several hundred and several thousand, with thousands of others injured and wounded. I guess the truth will never be revealed.  It’s also quite useful to remember what the students were protesting about – the end of corruption in the Communist Party, democratic reform, freedom of the press, freedom of speech, freedom of association, reforms for an economic free market.  As we can all see from the way the Hong Kong demonstrations have been handled, China hasn’t really shifted one iota in its beliefs that all these are not part of a citizen’s rights.  As I tried to cross a bridge in London, and I found the route closed because of eco-warriors ‘saving the world’, I couldn’t help but think that the reasoning behind the demonstration was facile, puerile and indulgent, but at the same time I thanked god that we live in a society where demonstrations are legal and don’t result in several hundred deaths.  Now I know I’m going to be yelled at by various people, told that from little acorns grow big oak trees, and if we did nothing, then nothing would change, and they do have a point.  However, I would suggest those people who like clowning around in the West End of London, which incidentally is nowhere near China, you do it in such a way that doesn’t piss off the majority of the population.  It just might be a good idea to try get them on your side.  It may be your impression that anyone who doesn’t get on a unicycle and have a party in Oxford Circus, doesn’t care, but it might both surprise and disappoint you, but some people are too busy earning a living to indulge in substandard circus entertainment. They feel they have a duty to their family on that mundane level of feeding them, clothing them and putting a roof over their heads. That doesn’t mean they care any less than the demonstrators about climate change, but it does mean they feel a responsibility to their families at this moment in time.    

I also know others will be screaming at me, telling me that because of COVID we’re now heading for a totalitarian state.  The precedent has been set – people are not allowed to meet in groups bigger than 2.6 people, and all pets have to socially distance.  And who knows, they may be right, but if I were a gambling man, I would readily bet on that not being the case. At the next election, there will be a swing back to the left, it may not be enough to win power, but if not it’ll be enough to give any government a bumpy ride.  And by all means be concerned and take action to stop global warming but lose the hypocrisy and understand the facts. The truth is we could cut our CO2 emissions down to zero, but it won’t change a thing because China and the USA don’t give a flying fuck. 

Of course, China was banned from celebrating Christmas during the Cultural Revolution (1966 – 1976).  It is now allowed again, but it’s really for the foreign visitors as most of China hasn’t got a clue what Christmas is about.  Only 1% of Chinese are Christians, and for the rest 25th December is just an ordinary working day.  We shouldn’t forget about when Christmas was banned in this country.  It was 1647 when Oliver Cromwell’s Puritan-led English Parliament banned Christmas, replacing it with a day of fasting.  That sounds fun – doesn’t it? It also makes Christmas in our bubbles not sound too bad.

What has all this do with – “It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas.”?  Christmas basically will always change.  It has to – as society changes, so does Christmas. It started out as a religious festival it’s now an excuse for a two week long hooley.  When I was a child, my Christmas Day still had a big slice of Christianity.  It would consist of waking at some ungodly hour to empty the stocking that was at the end of the bed.  It held the ubiquitous orange, a little toy, chocolate and some magic tick that I could never perform, but always wished I could.  Then when we, I have two sisters, when we were given the go-ahead, we headed off downstairs to open our ‘big present.’  The one I remember the best was a plastic fort – just loved it and it was perfect for my Swoppet knights.  Christmas morning was then spent going to church and I really didn’t mind it.  I loved Christmas carols, still do.  Even if you can’t hit a note, anybody can sing a carol.  It was the time to let it rip.  My favourite carol when I was a kid – O Come All Ye Faithful. Why was it my favourite?  Simple because when it got to the chorus it would build to a crescendo – and I liked that.  I liked the idea of things building to some sort of climax, it’s like a good story – it has to go somewhere.  After church, where everybody sported their best bib and tucker, no jeans or sandals in those days, it was back home to play with ‘the present and wait for Christmas dinner, which I loved. It felt like a real feast.  At that age I hadn’t read Dickens, but if I had, then in my imagination, I would have been at Bob Cratchit’s table.  The description of their ‘feast’ was how I looked on our yearly banquet. 

“There never was such a goose. Bob said he didn’t believe there ever was such a goose cooked. Its tenderness and flavour, size and cheapness, were the themes of universal admiration. Eked out by apple-sauce and mashed potatoes, it was a sufficient dinner for the whole family; indeed, as Mrs. Cratchit said with great delight (surveying one small atom of a bone upon the dish), they hadn’t ate it all at last! Yet everyone had had enough, and the youngest Cratchits in particular were steeped in sage and onion to the eyebrows! But now, the plates being changed by Miss Belinda, Mrs. Cratchit left the room alone, too nervous to bear witnesses, to take the pudding up, and bring it in.”

But as society progressed, so did my age and as a teenager, the Christmas Day feast didn’t hold the same allure.  That was until my relationship with my girlfriend, Jan, who I was destined to marry, of course I didn’t know that at the time, but our relationship was such that being apart on Christmas Day just wasn’t going to happen.  So to appease both our families, we had two Christmas dinners. 

This phase was followed by the ‘going home for Christmas’ phase.  When I would arrive back from college and was hailed as the prodigal son, or so I liked to believe.  Then came the Christmases with our children.  This was the most magical of phases. We were far from well off, I could spend quite some time just staring wistfully at Selfridges brilliant Christmas window displays, but thanks to Jan’s meticulously planning, which would include shopping in the January sales, for the following Christmas, the kids always seemed content with goodies Santa left them.  And belief in Father Christmas has to be the most innocent and enchanting belief a child can have.  Sending notes to Santa, that had been carefully engineered by a parent so that the wish list is also a possible list, is an action full of hope and incorruptibility. And not only will he deliver you your most desirable playthings, but he’ll do the same to every kid throughout the world. Long may this innocence and imagination survive. Despite someone telling me the other day about the story of a little girl who visited Santa in his grotto and as the Elf helped her onto Santa’s knee, Santa asked, “And what would you like for Christmas?”  For a moment the girl didn’t answer, she just stared at him, totally bemused and confused.  Then she said: “Didn’t you get my E-mail?”

At some point, as our children grew older, our Christmases started to vary from large family and friends’ gatherings, to smaller family affairs, to Christmas Days spent al fresco with family and friends in Cyprus, to others spent on hot beaches with family, biting into a beefburger and sipping on a Bud.  But the common factor in all these is family. My ideal Christmas would be one with all my family, kids and grandkids – but that isn’t going to happen this year.

The UK, like so many other countries has had a tough year. Now that the vaccine is being administered, (by the way, the minute I’m eligible, I’ll be first in line) hopefully there’s light at the end of the tunnel. Coming originally from Bradford I remember the smallpox scare, when we ended up queuing outside a clinic to get our jab. Thanks to that vaccination programme, the last recorded case of smallpox in the UK was 1978.  Similarly, polio was also eradicated in the 1980s.  These are diseases we no longer worry about; I’m just hoping that by the time next Christmas comes around, we’ll be thinking the same about COVID.

As for this Christmas, try and think of people who haven’t got it as good as you …

Mary and Joseph for instance.  They’re not going to make it to Bethlehem, because all Virgin flights have been cancelled.

Whatever this Christmas brings for you and those close to you, remember that civilisations have been built on imaginations, so when you’re buying those super electronic gifts try and also buy the odd book.  Our favourite granddaughter, Talz, is an avid reader.  Just in her early teens and she’s already read some classic novels – Dracula by Bram Stoker, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson – you might not believe it, but she also like Stephen King.  Imagination is still the corner stone of the world we occupy, after all somebody once imagined the Playstation.

Have a great Christmas and keep on dreaming, because despite face masks, restrictions and more than likely no snow – it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.