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Opinion: 'I find Christmas so false. It’s all veneer, folks'

Nearly everything about it is imported and constructed, writes Michael Fortune.

Michael Fortune Folklorist and filmmaker

AS THE SONG goes “Do they know it’s Christmas?” No, probably not. But they should though, shouldn’t they? After all, wasn’t the charity recording for them and sure isn’t Christmas all about charity?

Sorry, I’ll rephrase that, isn’t Christmas now all about the act of being seen to be charitable?.

Case in point on the Late Late Toy Show last week when Ryan ‘surprised’ that young girl who was living with her grandparents and gave the family a huge holiday to Legoland. Call me sensible here, but surely wouldn’t the money blown on a big holiday be better used to furnish out this family’s home, when and if they get one?

Christmas comes to the shops in October

I am qualified to talk about this as myself and my three sisters, mother and father lived with my grandmother for about ten years in a tiny room of a two bedroomed ‘cottage’ before we got a local authority house.

It didn’t have a toilet or heating… yawn, yawn, yawn, poor old me. So when I see these ‘charitable’ acts knitted in with blatant consumerism and vulgar waste of food such as the ‘hilarious’ hotdog malarkey, I ask myself what is really going on here?

As for us natives, “Do we know it’s Christmas?”. You’d hope so. Especially since there’s been Christmas stuff in the shops since October and nearly every town in the country has had their lights up since November.

And here we are today, the 8th of December, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, when us country people would gander into your cultured towns and cities to gawk at all you urban hawkers.

If I was a Christian I’d feel shortchanged

This was a relatively new and short-lived tradition in fairness but it’s gone by the wayside now and the ‘Bouncy Castle Holy Communion Christians’ celebrate the Feast of the Incredible Consumption which starts on Black Friday and ends with the January sales.

Now, I’m no Christian, but if I was, I’d feel shortchanged. And before you get your knickers in a twist about me having a say in the whole thing, the good people of this island were marking this the mid-winter 3,000 years before yer man Jesus ever came along.

You see folks, it was at this time of year, in the depths of mid-winter in western Europe, that our pre-Christian ancestors marked the winter solstice through celebrations using fires or through the sun oriented structures they erected in places such as Newgrange in County Meath or Knockroe in Co. Kilkenny.

And so the importance of light at this time of year carried through into the Christian belief, from guiding stars to candles in windows etc.

A much simpler affair

The celebration of Christmas up until the 1960s was a far simpler affair than it is now, especially for us rural types. Customs such as present-giving, Christmas trees and turkeys were 19th century imports and foreign to many.

Traditionally the festivities began on the 24th and evergreens were gathered and lit candles were placed in windows; again more practices borrowed from our pre-Christian ancestors.

Sprigs of red-berried holly were placed over picture frames and thresholds within the home and food was gathered for a Christmas Day feast. Interestingly, I’ve recorded families in East Mayo that ate the main meal on Christmas Eve and not Christmas Day, something which is common in Europe still.

One thing which certainly wasn’t part of the deal was stress, especially financial stress. The big guys, with the support of the compliant media, are driving the agenda and its inescapable. The small shops feel they have to run with Black Friday to keep up, while the poor old parents are mithered by the ads and constant voices of their own children, wanting.

I have three girls under seven and every five minutes I hear the small one chiming: “I’m getting that off Santy”. And do you know what big people? Santy mightn’t be bringing her everything she wants. Imagine. I think that might be classed as ‘child neglect’ with some of ye?

I find Christmas so false

Now, I’m a very positive type of person, just ask my psychologist, but I do find Christmas all so false. Nearly everything about it is imported and constructed and all the visual imagery and the happy feel-good stuff reminds me of the photos you got of your smiling cousins from America when you were a child. It’s all veneer folks. Sure how could anyone be that happy?

And don’t get me started on family. If truth be known there are members of my extended family that I couldn’t be arsed with, but they always make an appearance on Christmas expecting the love. Why wouldn’t they call in October when you’d like a bit of company? But no, we share the love at Christmas, they’re the rules.

But alas, all good things come to an end and no sooner have you opened the buttons on the trousers after the spuds on Christmas Day, you are pushed back into the shops again. Your last few quid is finally shaken out of you in the January sales and at this point you’re also told that you’re too fat and before you know it you’re back up on the consumer driven hamster wheel once again.

The real nail in the coffin comes when the good Christians on our city and town councils turn off the lights before traditional end date of Nollaig na mBan on 6 January, because people tired of spending by that stage and sure isn’t that’s what it’s all about folks?”

Michael Fortune has cut many furrows with his work for almost twenty years, and his pioneering practice has widened the conversations regarding the intersection of traditional and contemporary cultures in Ireland and the general appreciation and understanding of culture in all it manifestations, especially in the area of folklore. More info at www.folklore.ie.

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About the author:

Michael Fortune  / Folklorist and filmmaker

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