You know that you’re away from St Andrews when you don’t feel like you’re in a bubble anymore. This will definitely be most obvious when you go back home for an extended break between semesters. When I undertook such a journey back in December, every passing minute reminded me that I was going back to reality. And reality at that time of year is concerned with only one, all-consuming celebration.
To say that I have an abject hatred for Christmas would be going too far. However, there are many aspects of it that I consider to be annoying or mismanaged, so equally I’m never sad to see it go. Where better to begin than with the music? I remember a coursemate of mine telling me that her housemate was playing Christmas songs all the way back in October: such behaviour isn’t illegal, but it sure as hell isn’t a turn-on either. If it were up to me, all avenues to playing festive tunes would be blocked before December 1st and after December 25th. And what is everyone’s obsession with Fairytale of New York? A big part of me can’t help but think that it’s to do with Kirsty MacColl no longer being with us. As sad as that is, I don’t think it’s a good enough reason to cherish one song over so many others; truly great pieces should be immune to any changes in the status of their singers. Moreover, truly great artists should have their songs heard throughout the year, instead of receiving heavily inflated airplay via a deliberate targeting of one popular period in our calendar (I’m looking at you, Michael Bublé).
Christmas songs are mostly broadcast inside, so why can’t we go outside to avoid them? Because the outside world becomes overwhelmingly busy at that time of year, that’s why. As a species, planning ahead seems not to be our forte, so the annual rush to the shops on an incomparable scale becomes an event almost worthy of its own commemoration. I visited Edinburgh in late November, and was surprised to see that the Christmas market was already in session. People were packed inside it like sardines in a can, so managing to avoid the throng was an immense relief. At this point, I have to admit that holding the market over such an extended period wasn’t a bad idea, as the overcrowding may have been reduced. That said, markets such as these still hint at a very modern problem with how we view this particular holiday.
This problem: excessive commercialisation. Yes, businesses and the people therein do need an income, but when this drive for financial gain takes over everything else, it ends up wearing away some of our better behaviour. The good people of the world show their nearest and dearest that they are loved, but only the best do so without the need for an external stimulus. I am certain that too many individuals have become tricked into thinking that birthdays, anniversaries, New Year, Valentine’s Day and religious holidays are the only times when we have to do nice things for those closest to us. We’re busier now than ever before in our history, but even that can’t be allowed completely to get in the way of our moral obligations. For the last of the listed special occasions, the loss of their original meaning is perhaps the strongest of all. Thinking specifically about Christmas again, how many of us actually rejoice because we are marking an exact number of years since Jesus’ presumed birth? According to the 2011 UK census, 25% of us have no religion, but even the 59% who then identified as Protestant or Catholic must contain a lot of non-practitioners. I can’t be alone in thinking that Christmas is now, for the majority of us, mostly about gluttony and epicurism. I and many others are staunch atheists, yet we (mostly) don’t stop ourselves from taking part. We’re a pathetic bunch, really.
I was pleased with my presents and edible treats over Christmas, but as usual, not with the chaotic and aurally unpleasant run-up. I also found myself without even a shred of nostalgia as we rang in 2019. When I’m a fully functioning adult, I’ll be intrigued to see if I succumb to the same societal pressures as I have since I “woke up” to the real situation, or if my new-found independence will allow me to sit out the usual activities, at least for a trial year. At the time of writing, December 25th is only 320 days away. By the time you read this, that number will only have got smaller.
It’s coming, whether you like it or not…