There are just four days until Christmas. And while many of my colleagues and contemporaries are anticipating the big day with relish, I am a little uneasy. The reason? My fear that many of the certainties I have long associated with the festive period are apparently as ephemeral as yesterday’s snowman on an unusually clement winter’s morning.
Indeed, if some of my preferred news outlets are to be believed, I am surrounded by threats to the merry seasonal traditions that defined my childhood. These threats take many forms. Exhibit A: the demise of the Christmas card. This downfall is supposedly being driven by unprecedented challenges from allegedly “social” media, as well as the frankly hellish phenomenon of the “e-card”. Gone the carefully selected, handwritten note; here instead an update, beamed impersonally to one and all.
The Christmas lights of yore that entranced children like so many stars? Now engulfed by an array of increasingly brazen commercial activity. Here in London this year, pride of place has gone to illuminations sponsored by – and prominently featuring – a well-known yeast-based savoury spread.
And it’s not just that. One is confronted by this marketing mayhem at every turn: store fronts, billboards, endless TV spots and the rest. I am sure it’s getting worse.
What about the staples of Christmas Day itself? Well, I was dumbfounded earlier this week when I learnt – during the Monocle Christmas party – that the traditional British Christmas cracker was an entirely unknown quantity beyond the boundaries of the Commonwealth. This pyrotechnic, present-bearing masterpiece of festive fun has been a mainstay here in Britain since the 19th century. But proffer a cracker to an unsuspecting Spaniard, for example, and “blank look” doesn’t begin to cover the reaction you’ll get. So even crackers could be on the endangered list.
It’s a similar story when it comes to gifts. Today, the Christmas wish lists of children are, according to the latest reports from Santa’s grotto, dominated by gadgets and gizmos. No proper toys in sight. While I will grudgingly concede that a youthful, IT-savvy generation is probably a good thing, it seems a real shame if phones and gaming usurp old-fashioned toys.
Am I overreacting? Perhaps. And it’s true that Christmas remains what you make of it. That’s why I’ll stick with my paper cards, austere lights, crackers and wooden toys under the tree.
Despite my gripes I do hope that – wherever you are – there are plenty of reasons for you to be looking forward to the 25th. Even if you’re also a little worried that the festivities may not quite measure up to your memories of the past.
Tom Edwards is news editor for Monocle 24.