It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, as the song goes. Although really, given that the lyrics’ deem such things as “candy canes and silver lanes aglow”, “toys in every store” and “a tree in the Grand Hotel, one in the park as well”, then it’s been beginning to look a lot like Christmas for a good month or so.
Here in York most of the Christmas lights were being put up as October ended, with shops putting out Christmas displays around the same time. People have complained for years about the “Christmas creep” (which, according to the ever-reliable wikipedia, is a term that apparently doesn’t exist in this country, showing how subjective a source that can sometimes be), the idea that the Christmas season seems to start earlier every year. Of course this does rather ignore the fact that, as they’ve been complaining about it for decades, it clearly hasn’t actually creeped forward much in recent times – hell, the likes of Harriet Beecher Stowe and George Bernard Shaw were grumbling about the over-commercialisation of Christmas over a century ago).
This still does leave the question of just when should the Christmas season begin? Historically, in the era when Christmas wasn’t necessarily the major holiday of the year, Christmas Day was the beginning of Christmastide and the celebrations would continue on from there and into the New Year. Christmas Day itself is, then, the First Day of Christmas (of “partridge in a pear tree” fame) leading on to topsy-turvey Twelfth Night and Epiphany, the 12th and final Day of Christmas, on January 6th. Typically in many cultures that was when you got your presents. As Christmas Day has grown in importance, however, the Christmas season has shifted to focus on the build up to it.
In America, the presence of Thanksgiving at the end of November provides a decent marker for the start of the “Holiday Season”, which encompasses Christmas and the equivalent mid-winter holidays of other cultures, such as Jewish Hanukkah (which, this year, is happening currently and finishes on Thursday). Over here, though, the only significant late in the year celebrations according to most shops are Hallowe’en and Bonfire Night, meaning that their idea of the start of Christmas is around the beginning of November.
The church, however, have their own pre-Christmas countdown in the form of Advent, something that has also been taken on by shops and businesses to provide November with must-buy items before the start of this period. For the church Advent is the four Sundays leading up to Christmas, usually celebrated in the lighting of candles. For most of us, however, it is a countdown that runs from the 1st of December until Christmas itself, with calendars to use for every day.
This year, however, is one of those where both church and the general public agree. The first Sunday of Advent and the 1st of December are on the same day and that day is today. By any reasonable standard, then, today is the start of the Christmas period, with enough time to enjoy the feeling of Christmas, put up your decorations, buy your presents and everything, but not too much time for it not to feel special.
I love Christmas and, as a result, from today onwards this month will be entirely devoted to festive food starting on Wednesday with my version of an advent calendar.