So ‘it’ is here again, and there’s very little to say about ‘It’ that has not been said, year after year, since Jesus’ birthday was shifted back as a matter of convenience from sometime in March (probably) to coincide with the pagan feast of Yule.
‘It’ is a feast day – a last good blow-out before we putty up the windows, break out the strips of dried pork and the cloche of turnips and try to go to sleep until spring. ‘It’ is an excuse for ribaldry, debauchery and general merry-making down the old baronial hall; tossing back extravagant amounts of very bad porter and tossing out atrociously bad jokes. Uncle Toby will sing ‘The Holly and the Ivy’ (badly) several times, Aunt Megan will resume last year’s determined pursuit of young Desmond the blacksmith’s lad despite an age difference of thirty summers, newly marrieds Bertram and Sylvia will have another violent row, after which Bertram will get drunk and put paw-prints all over Sally from the mill. Grandma will remain largely silent while everyone wishes she wouldn’t sit like that.
Around midnight those who are still walking will return home. Those who aren’t will simply sleep on amid the ruins, suffering speculative licks from the occasional dog as it ferrets for bones.
Today? I guess we still equate the winter months with some degree of hibernation. We turn up the central heating, huddle around the several feet of flat screen television and try to imagine what that ‘feature fireplace’ looked like when it actually had a fire in it. When we brush the hay aside we find the local cloche-market stocked with rather more than just turnips, though we might feel a sense of deprivation if the Spanish strawberries are in short supply this week. No-one stocks putty anymore.
‘It’ is still a feast day. Somewhere, though, amid the Great Tapestry, it was hijacked by children. When did that happen? ‘It’, I am regularly told, is ‘great for the kids’. Why? What edict decreed that we should feed the commercial machine with vast amounts of money in return for modified lumps of coloured plastic to gratify the cast of Lord of the Flies?
Yet there is much about the day our mediaeval village would still recognise. The drink is still, for the most part, very bad; the jokes are, if anything, worse, and Karaoke has done nothing to improve Uncle Toby’s voice. Aunt Megan stars on YouTube in the New Year. Bertram and Sylvia are still rowing, despite Sylvia’s investment of five hundred pounds in palliative presents to keep her husband happy. Sally sits in a corner. She has an STD. Grandma is still largely silent, apart from a very vocal insistence she watch The Queen on TV.
‘It’ today has travelled a million miles in space and time from that Merrie England myth, hasn’t it? Well, supposedly, if the Chaucerian depiction of life in those times was ever true. But if you take away the religious element which once formed the core of such celebrations – and we have, largely, taken it away – then what do you have left? Perhaps that explains the terrible emptiness I experience each year.
I have no winter famine to allay, no auld acquaintance to renew and no reason, really, to be feasting at all. I am just one of group of affiliates in a room seeking nirvana in drink as I watch the turn of another year. And as the day passes I watch the door, hoping somehow Geoffrey Chaucer will walk in.