It’s that time of year! Christmas is coming and once again proving beyond any doubt that time is relative – as to anyone who has grown to an age whereby fulfilling the wishes of a very nearly neatly written list has become the priority over writing one, last Christmas was just two weeks gone Tuesday whilst to members of the list-writing community it feels like they still have forever to wait. In the Western Churches, Advent starts today, four Sundays before Christmas, and marks the date when Christians around the world spiritually prepare for the Nativity of our Lord.
As usual Advent this year is playing catch-up to our more readily-observed traditions, not least of which is the arrival of the annual Christmas TV adverts. Nothing heralds that bring it on feeling to the UK population quite like the first sighting of the annual John Lewis Christmas advert. Other adverts are available and they’re all good; so good in fact voting for the best Christmas advert has also become a UK tradition and many a conversation about who’s seen what will once again be conducted around many an office teapot this year (yayy, vaccinations). John Lewis’ 2021 ad features a little boy and an alien. I love it, but my favourite so far is “Mog’s Christmas Calamity”, the 2016 offering from Sainsbury’s supermarket which is based on the antics of a disaster-prone cat by the children’s’ author Judith Kerr. Mog accidentally sets the house on fire and, just when it seems Christmas will be cancelled, the neighbours come together and share what they have with Mog’s family. Lovely, fuzzy stuff and a perfect summation of what really makes us truly happy. In 2016 Waitrose supermarket was declared the Christmas ad winner with their “Home for Christmas’ advert. A really bang-on Christmas message about a little wee robin beating the odds to get home for Christmas. A worthy champion in a very closely fought year. These adverts are now carefully curated to appear on almost all multimedia platforms, their subliminal messaging aimed at separating us from a wedge of the hard-earned but we don’t care. In fact we love it, we immerse ourselves further in the ritual and we forget what the adverts are created to do. The short tales told in each advert tap into what makes the Christmas message resonate within us.
Christmas traditions are simply rituals and rituals are very important to us. As a species, humans use rituals to bring order to our lives and to unite us in our communities. Daily life can be stressful; having special times of the year when we know exactly what to do, and how to do it, provides a reassuring sense of control and stability. The predictability in the ritual helps us manage our anxieties. This is one the reasons why the pandemic left many of us feeling isolated, more isolated than through the physical social distancing and lockdown measures alone. Pandemic behaviour, though necessary, was unknown to us. We had no markers by which to measure what to do and how to cope. Pandemics aren’t unknown to humanity, our history is littered with them, we just don’t know much about most of them. Least said soonest mended is not a maxim that works anthropologically. Think about smallpox, if we celebrated smallpox eradication month (December 1979 -WHO. Yayy -vaccines again) then we would be more aware of what to expect during a pandemic and united in feeling the relief associated with knowing this dreadful disease can no longer harm us like it once did.
In Wales the plygain carol service is an old tradition enjoying a comeback. First mentioned in the 13th century “Black Book of Carmarthen” – the oldest known manuscript written entirely in Welsh – a plygain service was where people would gather at 3am on Christmas morning, walk to church by candlelight and then sing for the next five hours. Each of the individual singers or choirs of singers, sing in Welsh and no two songs are the same. Nowadays folk singers, together with the faithful and the hopeful, are keeping this uniquely Welsh tradition alive.
We may moan a bit about Christmas; it has become too commercial and there is a lot of pressure to provide the “perfect” Christmas – often from the very adverts we spend all year waiting for – but there are many more reasons to keep celebrating. Christmas rituals bring with them an opportunity to affirm our love for those we love and receive their love for us. They bring hope for more of the good stuff; more love, the ever continual hope for peace on earth, the redemption of our sins and our ultimate salvation. This year my family will continue in our traditions of singing along, albeit tunelessly and loudly, to every song going from Charles Wesley to Greg Lake and to decorate anything near a socket with fairy lights – just because it adds to the magic. We may not use Baileys as a milk substitute quite so much this year, but then again, we probably will! I don’t believe in just sending subliminal messages of Christmas hope and love. I believe in sharing the joy of the Christmas message, I believe in Father Christmas and I wish you a hopeful Christmas and a brave New Year.
Nadolig Llawen a blwyddyn newydd dda -a joyful Christmas and a happy New Year from Rx Communications