The English are always discussing the weather, allegedly because it stops them having to engage in conversation about anything more profound. So it’s said, anyway and like most clichés, there’s probably a grain of truth in there somewhere. With that in mind, this seems an apt juncture at which to pause and take stock before the Christmas tsunami engulfs us all.
This is the second tough winter in a row for this country after years of inconsequential grey winters where we hardly saw any snow at all. Some people have had it far worse than we have here in Birmingham; the West Midlands sub-tropical microclimate has ensured that we could still sit out by the pool sipping our piña coladas and listening to Jimmy Buffett CD’s until pretty recently with only an army greatcoat and an industrial patio heater to keep us warm and toasty. Right now, however, the snow flutters down from slaty skies, carpeting and muffling everything – looks like Christmas will be white this year.
Describing Christmases Past as ‘pleasant’ is about as effusive as I get; we all know the clichés about being forced to spend time in the company of those you spend the rest of the year avoiding, we all know about the rampant consumerism and the tyranny of present-buying. However, as someone for whom religion is just a non-factor, the increasing secularisation of a Christian festival is something I viewed with minimal interest; usually some news item with a dotty old Bishop ranting on about how godless we all were all becoming……as though this was something about which we should feel ashamed rather than a matter of personal choice. Yes, thanks for that Bishop; Merry Christmas and my best to you & the kids….
The Church is unhappy……
So, a few weeks back now, I was tasked with buying a range of Christmas cards sufficient for the needs of the household. This is an easy task round here as the High Street is virtually awash, not only with outlets like Birthdays and W.H. Smith’s but also with several independent shops who sell very little other than cards. However the partner had told me specifically that in amongst all the perky robins and tinselled snowmen, I needed to get her a small selection of cards with a religious theme. She has a number of Irish and American relatives who haven’t drifted as far from Mother Church as she has and they still expect the niceties of the season to be observed to a superficial degree.
It was, therefore, with an increasing sense of desperation that I roamed the aisles of the local card shops, searching in vain for anything with a religious theme. I wasn’t being picky; the odd halo or manger would have done just fine. Nothing. Nada. Do not pass ‘Go’, do not collect your key to the Pearly Gates.
In the end, in a glittering warehouse full of tinselled Santas and improbable Dickensian scenes ( idealised snowy villages, jolly, rotund carol-singers, no black people or fast food outlets) I finally found one box of cards that would just about do, but I would hardly have described these as religious…
The ‘salutation’ was the giveaway; ‘Christmas Blessings’ it said in a discreet and vaguely gothic script. The illustration, though, was equivocal; three blokes on camels crest a stereotypical sand-dune, catching sight of a walled Middle Eastern city with minarets away in the distance.
Of course, if the designers of this bijou item had thought about it at all, which I somehow doubt, they were relying on the ability of human beings to make connections from tenuous bits of information. Three blokes on camels? Obviously ‘wise men’ from the east, rather than three scruffy Bedouin on their way into town for a night of kif and hanky-panky, followed by a good Dhansak and a thick head in the morning.
Frankly, the salutation could just have easily read ‘ Greetings from Ouarzazate, gateway to the Sahara’ or ‘OPEC Ministers Hog-Roast, Tunis 2011’ – the illustration would have been just as relevant. Of course, we’ve become adept at lampooning this kind of thing (as below – thanks to, I think – The Daily Mash), which is probably another reason why it’s so hard to come by these days.