By Peter Stuart Smith (AKA Max Adams, James Barrington, James Becker, Philip Berenson and Jack Steel)
As most people know, Christmas has got virtually nothing to do with Christianity. In the early days of the Church, the fledgling religion faced competition from all sides, and one of their biggest problems was trying to combat paganism and other faiths, and particularly to subdue their long established festivals and religious days. The 25th of December was one of these, an important pagan celebration known as the Festival of the Unvanquished Sun, and rather than try to compete with it, the early Church simply hijacked it, decreeing in the mid-fourth century that that day was the birthdate of Jesus Christ.
That's the historical reality, if you like, but you could also argue that no matter what the truth is of the founder of the Christian religion, Christmas today has got virtually nothing to do with Christianity, but for entirely different reasons. It's been turned into an almost entirely commercial event, with the first offers for the festive season appearing in the shops as early as October, and sometimes even in August and September. According to one statistic I saw – and like most statistics it is highly suspect – as much as thirty per cent of the British population will incur significant debts that they cannot afford to repay over this holiday season, because of the perceived need to buy presents for relatives that they otherwise wouldn't see, and might even dislike, and to purchase prodigious quantities of food which will force everyone to subsist on a diet that consists almost entirely of turkey for the weeks following the holiday.
The subject of presents always causes a certain amount of amusement. My uncle in law – in other words, my wife's uncle – invariably buys us a box of biscuits, so the only thing we don't know before we open the present is exactly which brand he's selected this year. We don't really know why he bothers wrapping it. As a gift, it would make more sense if we ate biscuits, but we don't. We normally buy him a bottle of Scotch, which is equally predictable, and easy, and we don't wrap it. The problem comes when trying to buy presents for people that you don't know, and who you might only have met once or twice in the past.
This year will be the last we spend in the house my mother-in-law owned, because next year it will be sold, and so by a process almost of elimination, it was decided that there would be a final family get-together on Christmas Day in that property. This meant buying additional tables and chairs, not to mention a positive mountain of food because it's not just the immediate family members who will be coming – it's the extended lot as well, and that means Christmas lunch for about seventeen.
And you can't have Christmas lunch without Christmas presents, and that's been our problem. Just what do you buy for a fifty-year-old man who you've met once? We don't know if he drinks or smokes or has some other, less socially acceptable, vice that we could cater for, and we have no idea what he watches on TV or the cinema, or listens to in the car, so we can't even buy him a DVD film or a CD. And what about a fifteen-year-old boy? Actually, that might be easier. Twenty fags and half a bottle of Scotch would probably hit the spot, no matter what his parents might think.
At least for my wife and me, it's a lot easier. This year, just like last year, and the year before, and the year before that, and so on, we buy each other neither a present nor a card. Really, really easy. Then we each go out and if we see something we fancy, we buy it for ourselves.
That way, we can be absolutely certain that at least one of the Christmas presents we receive will be exactly what we want, even if three days after Christmas we're taking everything else round to the nearest charity shop in a big bag.
In fact, I have a feeling we might have stumbled upon the perfect way to buy Christmas presents: buy absolutely nothing for anybody else, and just buy yourself whatever it is you want. And, of course, tell all your friends and relatives to do exactly the same, because for me, personally, there's a limit to the number of tins of biscuits and pairs of amusing socks that I can cope with.
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