Domestic division over dates – I think they’re delicious, he doesn’t.
D is for…
Decorations: It must be that D is for Decorations. Although the Days are Dark, there is Drinking and Dancing, big Dinners, and panto Dames – the lasting memory from childhood is unpacking all the Decorations and working out where to hang them on the tree. Twenty two years of having my own decorations, and annually buying more, and the collection is quite extensive. But it’s a bit like the family holiday photos on the mantle-piece, you can look at each piece and remember something about that year. For some strange reason a lasting vision in my brain is a morning, all the children were old enough to be at school, on my own wandering around the displays of cheap baubles in a Tonbridge shop, debating over purple and dark blue baubles. I got both in the end.
Dickens: ‘A Dickensian Christmas,’ we cry, ‘what could be more traditional?!’ Sadly the reality of a Dickensian Christmas is rank poverty and death from hypothermia (see ‘The Little Match Girl’), and/or – as in the case of Tiny Tim – untreated rickets. Of course, TT was saved in the end by the intervention of a rich and kindly benefactor, but as we look at Britain today with its ever-increasing wealth divide I think we would be foolish to put our faith in spectre-and-the-fear-of-eternal-damnation-fuelled philanthropy to keep the wolf from the door. Bah Humbug to Dickens. Please give generously if you can to your local food banks, homeless shelters, and street support charities etc. If you are going to be reliant on those charities yourself then may God (if she/he/it exists) and the Spirits of Christmas (ditto) watch over you and yours.
Donkey: The donkey has a special place in most people’s affections when it comes to the Nativity. The creature crops up every year in the Mary, Jo and infant Jesus selfies that populate our Christmas cards, sticking his big ears into the frame and looking…well, shattered to be honest. Then there are the nativity plays that we’ve either been in as children or watched as parents. The donkey-on-wheels is one of my favourite bits and the song Little Donkey still brings a tear to the eyes when I hear a little tot trying to sing the line ‘ring out those bells tonight’. The donkey, more than most, earned its place at the special event. What did the Ox do exactly? Right place, right time. And the sheep? They jumped on the bandwagon. The donkey carried Mary from Nazareth to Bethlehem, which is a journey of over a hundred miles and would take approximately thirty-four hours by foot in the heat and dust. It’s about four hours by train these days if you check googlemaps. The animal must have worked tirelessly in supporting its precious burden on the long trek.
The donkey has been around for at least the last five thousand years. That’s stubbornness for you. There are over forty million of them living in the world today. You’re probably living next door to one. If not then you probably know an ass or two. There are over a hundred references to donkeys in the Bible. It was the preferred mode of transport for Abraham and Moses. Exodus 4:20: ‘So Moses took his wife and sons, put them on a donkey and started back to Egypt.’ God himself chooses to speak through a donkey to reprimand Baalam for beating it. Above all the donkey is mentioned as a sign of wealth and as a precious animal. Again from Exodus: ‘If you see the donkey of someone who hates you fallen down under its load, do not leave it there; be sure you help them with it.’ The donkey is a symbol of putting aside your differences. But there’s no mention of donkeys carrying Mary to Bethlehem. Not one. Even more galling for the animal was the fact that Pope Benedict XVI wrote it out of the Nativity in his book of 2012. It’s a moot point. There were so many donkeys milling around at the time that who can prove it wasn’t there? And anyway doesn’t this animal that has been with us for much of our evolutionary progress in supporting, carrying and generally taking the strain deserve a bit of credit? Let’s appreciate the donkey and its virtues. Yes, the camels carried the three kings and got all the glamour but the donkey does all the work.
Dove of Peace: A traditional symbol of Christmas, but not one that should be taken for granted. Christmas does bring families together, it’s true, but this often includes family members who shouldn’t be allowed in the same country at the same time let alone the same room. The Dove of Peace often turns out to be a cuckoo in the nest, and it’s probably safer to avoid inviting any birds in other than the turkey, duck or goose you plan on eating for dinner. You have been warned.
Dr Who Christmas Special: This is quite a modern tradition. I don’t keep it.
It’s a pity, because Dr Who aside we don’t really have any ‘must watch’ specials anymore. Gone are the glory days of Morecombe and Wise and Stanley Baxter (except for the endless repeats on BBC4 and ITV 3), and somehow Keith Lemon waggling his pixelated wanger at Fearne Cotton and/or the omnibus edition of that miseryfest Eastenders doesn’t have the same appeal. And of course everything is available to watch at leisure on catch up anyway, so why struggle to gather the whole family together at the same time, when you can individually watch whatever you want to watch without the inconvenience of other human beings interrupting to try to communicate with you? For god’s sake – if they want to do that why not just send you a text?
DVD’s: One of my family’s favourite presents.
Featured Writer: C. J. Hall (Donkey). Additional Contributors: Carolyn Gray, Peppy Scott, Karen Tucker, David Smith.