That time of year again . . . .

Right, before I begin let me stress that this is not, repeat not, a blog referring to the Christian festival celebrating the birth of Christ, the fact that it accidentally coincides with the ages old mid-winter celebrations and the birth of various pre-Christian deities is just the luck of the draw and not an intentional attempt to steal their thunder. For anyone interested in such things I can only repeat the words of the late-lamented Irish Comedian, Dave Allen, ‘May your God go with you’.

No, I’m talking about what’s now the cross denominational, social festival of Christmas where we’re beaten over the head from almost before the end of Halloween with various messages, liminal and subliminal imploring us to buy more because not to do so makes us all bad people.

By now we’re probably all suffering from Christmas fatigue and can’t wait for that one-day binge of eating and drinking to be past us so we can try to clear our heads and start all over again. Yet every year we repeat the same old complaints, Christmas is just for kids, Christmas is too commercialised, Christmas is just a lie to make us all go out and spend money, etc, etc. and as someone without kids it would be very easy for me to side with this camp and sit at home grumbling and wait for the crowd to leave the pubs and the shops so I can once more visit these places without the risk of being run over.

Yes, I agree with some, Christmas is indeed a lie (I refer again to my non-religious caveat at the beginning, no burning torches in my direction please), it is a lie, but it is a necessary lie.

Despite what we all try to tell ourselves we do spend an inordinate amount of time thinking just of ourselves, running all our choices and options through the filter of how it will affect us first and others later. Yet the idea of Christmas, the ‘Christmas Spirit’ if you like is to force us to actually put others first, even if it is just for a few days of the year.

Now what I’m talking about here isn’t necessarily the consumerist Christmas, though this is often the language through which we express our feelings at this time of the year, I’m actually talking about the sentimental, story-like, dare I say it ‘Hollywood’ Christmas that we see in stories all around us. From soppy Christmas versions of various TV shows to regularly updated versions of A Christmas Carol, innumerable Christmas movies and topping it all the glorious It’s A Wonderful Life, we’re beaten over the head with the idea that Christmas is a time to embrace those around us, go that extra step for a stranger and generally, for even one day, treat people how, with any decency, they should be treated all year round.

It sounds so easy, it sounds so simple but if it is then why don’t we do it all the time?

Maybe it’s my love of crime fiction or fiction in general that looks towards the darker aspects of the human soul or maybe it’s my own outlook on life, but I find it almost impossible to go even one day without seeing one example of man behaving in a shitty manner to man (of course in that gender neutral, 21st Century kinda way, I mean man as encompassing all mankind, the good lady folk aren’t immune). So maybe this is why I actually like Christmas, the soppy, sentimental Christmas to be honest, maybe it’s the world’s way of grabbing us all by the short-n-curlies, pressing our faces against the glass, forcing us to look outside ourselves and shouting HEY, SHIT-FOR-BRAINS, HOW ABOUT YOU ACTUALLY THINK OF OTHERS AND ACTUALLY DO SOMETHING NICE, FOR ONCE, or words to that affect, probably with even more swearing but you get my drift.

So what if we express this by going out and spending money, so what if many of the gifts are unwanted and soon forgotten, it means that for that brief moment, that tiny little flash of time, we were thinking about someone else. What the sentimental Christmas does in the best way is beat us over the head with the idea that Christmas is a time when we actually do this, when we can actually be better people, even for a little while, and the challenge is for us to behave like this all year round.

The sentimental Christmas doesn’t sneak up on us anymore, though it’s usually hidden in the crowd of consumerism, but it will sap us over the head all the same, probably take our money and leave us dazed in a darkened alley somewhere, and if it does its job right the first thing we do when we come to isn’t to bemoan our bruises, it’s to run to the important people in our lives and, even temporarily, try to let them know what they mean to us.

It can be a dark, lonely, miserable world out there at the best of times, we need something that forces us to think of others, to draw us all together, physically or emotionally, even for a little while, and huddle together against the cold.

To finish there’s only one place to go, the one, the only, one of the greatest movies of any genre of all time, It’s A Wonderful Life. For those who haven’t seen this at least a hundred times I ask what the fuck are you up to?

For myself I intend to sit back and bask in its utter magical brilliance, though I may have something in my eye for the next 130 minutes.

To paraphrase Bill & Ted, Be excellent to one another, and see you all in the new year when, don’t worry, the turgid misery will return

Oh and if anyone out there is struggling for gift ideas all I can say is visit your local bookshop and buy books, that is all, just buy books.