Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Godot rest ye merry, gentlemen (and ladies)

OK, for the purposes of this aside on the festivities, let’s leave kids out of the equation. Christmas for them is different. Never mind that the Star of Bethlehem doesn’t move nearly as fast as the flashes from their magnums as they play the kindergarten equivalent of Grand Theft Auto – there are sparkly things everywhere, a huge tree is suddenly growing and twinkling inside the house and the fat guy with the red gear is on his way. My cynicism about it all is barely disguised but I genuinely am happy that it makes kids happy.

But this isn’t about the kids’ Christmas (or the Christmas for genuine believers, which, again, I acknowledge is something different and something special). This is about Christmas for heathens such as me and even those heathens who still pay lip-service to the notion that it’s somehow connected with a religious faith.

I used to get angry about the whole thing – all the enforced jollity, the contagion of Santa’s ‘Ho-ho-ho’. I found it sad that people were nice to one another just because it was Christmas and couldn’t see that it would be good to be like that right through the year. Why not be happy, caring and ho-ho-ho-ish because it’s Tuesday or October or late afternoon? I didn’t like the profits made from crap goods that wouldn’t even last until bedtime. I couldn’t see the point of sending a card to someone ‘because they’d sent one to you’. I was the guy wandering amongst all the ever-so-jolly adverts, listening to George Michael, Wizzard and Slade belting out their singalongs in all the shops and muttering ‘Bah humbug’ at every opportunity. I was the pre-ghosts Scrooge minus his miserliness.

Then, lo, it came to pass (several years ago, actually) that the scales fell from my eyes and I realised what I’d known all along – that’s it’s the festival of Godot. Waiting for Godot is about all sorts of things. It’s bleak and yet very funny, it’s simultaneously theatrical and anti-theatrical, and it sums up marvellously how we live our lives. I want everyone who reads this to have a wonderful happy time, so I won’t stress (well, not much, anyway) the essential self-deception of waiting for something which never happens, but that’s what Christmas is. The anticipation begins earlier and earlier each year – and that’s marvellous, because there’s a feeling of direction, purpose, a reason to do particular things. The excitement and magic is a daily experience, through late October, November, December.

The mistake is to assume it’s building up TO something. It’s not. Nothing could match the build-up, so Christmas Day arrives, then goes. And almost at once the newspapers start including supplements about summer holidays. Philip Larkin’s poem Next, Please is a powerful evocation of our Waiting for Godot lives and, although it’s not about Christmas, it encapsulates the season. I’m not going to quote it because its truth (for an unbeliever) may seem uncomfortable (and for a believer, it’s just plain wrong).

And no, I’m not just being a miserable old bugger. I’m having a good time. I like the excitement, the gaudiness, the superficial impression that everything’s OK really. I love the wonder in the faces of the younger kids and the naked, smiling acquisitiveness of the older kids who’ve learned how to work the system. And I actually think it’s a shame that, in the USA, political correctness has emasculated the bluff, complex cheer of ‘Merry Christmas’ and substituted for it the bland ‘Happy Holidays’.

But I really, really do want everyone (of all faiths or none) to have a great time. So Happy Christmas to all.


  1. Lovely photo. Just when I wrote about cockroaches on my blog. :))
    Oh, not Samuel Beckett again. :) I hated the endgame with passion. :)

  2. The roach is being held (cuddled almost) by my grandson. But I'm sorry you don't like Beckett. I think Endgame's hilarious. What's not to like about exchanges such as:
    - Accursed progenitor. Why did you engender me?
    - Because I didn't know.
    - Didn't know what?
    - That it'd be you.

  3. I only watched that one play by him, to be honest. He might be a genius. I am just not into dark depressing thoughtful stuff anymore- watched and read too much of that during the Soviet times. I don't watch war movies for the same reason. I thought the endgame was very....Russian. Pretentious. Depressing. Dark. Check out my posting on it if you have a minute. I could not place the link here, despite Gary Corby's directions before...Not sure why, probably me being a bit slow.
    It is called "they all said it is great so it must be true". Thank you for following me, btw. Made my day.

  4. I thought I was already following you, Scary. Surprised me to find I wasn't. I missed your Endgame blog though so I'll check that out. I think in the end it depends on the production one sees. If a director stresses the bleakness, I think he/she is missing the point and doing Beckett a disservice. I think the plays are funny - and intensely human. (But I'm probably sick.)

  5. The best memories I have of my family are at Christmas and funerals. Too bad it takes special occasions and holidays for us to be generous with our friends and family. Generous in spirit not monetary gifts.

  6. Exactly right, Marley.

    It's occurred to me since writing this, too, that once we're aware of this anti-climax potential of the day itself, we can surely plan some surprise, some event, or something different that does make it memorable and therefore implies that, this year, Godot actually arrived.

    Or we could go back to the 'Bah humbug' routine. Yes, that's easier.

  7. I remember my mother putting up the Christmas tree when I was a kid. It was a wonderful, special family celebration and took up the whole day on Christmas Eve. That's what Christmas used to be: family and closeness and doing special things to celebrate the season--entwined with our faith.

    What I really HATE nowadays, is that Christmas begins right after Labor Day. [Commercially, it didn't begin until the day after Thanksgiving, and that was bad enough!] I agree that we shouldn't be kind, generous, and loving only during the "Christmas" season, and that year-round jolliness would be beneficial to all mankind. But for those of us who do celebrate the season because of spirituality/religion/faith, the commercialism stinks.

    Exit soapbox.

  8. All those people I would completely lose touch with if it weren't for Christmas letters... I really like knowing we can catch up next year too.

  9. Linda and Sheila. I hope I'm always very careful to make it clear that most of my observations on Christmas (and many other things) will read as rubbish for those who have faith. We can probably agree to deplore the commercialism of the present season and I'm sure we all have a good time with family and friends. My godlessness will be the death of me but meantime, Happy Christmas, however you celebrate it.