When did Christmas start for you? In September, when the first decorations started to appear in garden centres and certain shops? In December, when postal deadlines loom? Or will it only finally happen on Christmas Eve, when the stress of juggling work, day-to-day family needs and shopping has almost become too much, but you can finally sit down with a glass of wine in the happy knowledge that everything is sorted?
Sometimes we lose sight of the reason for doing things. Christmas is a religious festival – in Scotland, when my parents were young (in the early 20th century), it wasn’t even a public holiday! But as our society has grown ever more secular, so, too, Christmas has become more commercialised and for many people less religious. That can be a real turn-off. I’ve been known to mutter ‘Bah! Humbug!’ myself as Frosty the Snowman blasts out of the shops in October.
For all the downsides, though, it’s still hugely important to us. As writers, we know that the reading public just loves a good Christmas story (well done Sue Moorcroft for delivering one!). We long for a ‘white Christmas’, even though in reality a big snowfall can bring misery for anyone who has to travel. Lights and decorations lift our spirits at a very dark time of year. And when the stress of organisation is over, the pleasure of celebrating with family and friends begins.
It’s this aspect of the celebration that makes Christmas important for us, whether we are Christians or not. Shared values and rituals connect us. The appearance of the tree in the village or neighbourhood; the office party; preparing our family’s time-honoured meal; thinking about gifts our dear ones will really appreciate; watching a favourite movie or TV programme with our family – these things make us realise the importance of family and friendship. By participating in such rituals, we affirm the things we hold dear – kindness, generosity, laughter and love.
Writers specialise in digging deep into what’s happening under the surface of events and character, and a time of such social and ritualistic significance offers brilliant opportunities for tension, conflict and – hopefully – sweet resolution. I haven’t written a Christmas book (yet!), but in one of my early novels, Face the Wind and Fly, there’s a seminal scene in the village where everyone gets together in a community garden they have just created and a child switches on the lights as the school choir sings. Families that have been at war manage to come together, characters that have misunderstood each other realise what is important to them and for a short, very special time, all is right with the world.
It’s not just about lights and presents and children singing, though these things are all part of this special festival. In the end, it’s about knowing what we value, and sharing this with others that makes Christmas magic.
And in this spirit, I’m happy to tell you that Take Five Authors will be sharing some great Christmas recipes with you next Saturday – don’t miss our blog!