(Note: this is a copy of an old posting to Facebook, completed before I began this blog but included for the sake of completeness)
Today was the Much Wenlock Christmas Fayre. Perfect weather – dry, crisp, sunny spells – and the streets of our small town were heaving with visitors. The fayre always marks the beginning of our Christmas festivities. We go to the fayre, we put up decorations, dress the tree, eat mince pies, drink a glass of sherry and Christmas has begun.
Ritual/tradition is a big part of Christmas. For some reason it is important to go through repeated actions, to do things a certain way. I wonder why this is. Maybe it is something to do with the cyclic nature of things that I mentioned in an earlier post. The repetition seems to give us something concrete, unchanging, dependable to rely upon. In a world like ours where change is occurring at an unprecedented rate, we need reminders that some things are a little more permanent. So, does it matter what our rituals are? Are we at liberty to simply make them up? Is the simple act of repetition enough to give us the psychic balm we require? I think that on one level it is. It is reassuring to put up the same baubles on the tree each year. It gives a sense of continuity. But there is a difference between ritual and OCD. In order for the repeated action to remain healthy it has to have meaning. Meaning deeper than surface appearance. Symbolic meaning. So, it helps if the baubles on the tree have been passed down through the family. Then, they begin to represent something bigger than themselves – they represent family, our connection to the past and, potentially to the future. They represent our continued presence even after our death. Pretty impressive for a bit of glass and tin!! So, choose your traditions with care.
Ironically, on the face of it, our family tradition of going to the fayre seems to be about going shopping. And on one level it is. But the fayre is also very much about community. Everybody goes. You bump into lots of people. You chat, you spend time together, share food, drink, sing carols together, strengthen bonds. And you buy a bit of stuff – hopefully from local crafts people. My wife, Jo, has sold the art and jewellery she makes at the fayre for years. Today she reminded me that when she started over ten years ago, it was a very different fayre – much smaller, all the stalls were local crafts people. Today the fayre swamps the town and many of the stalls are professional market traders selling more mass produced stuff. But enough of the original flavour remains to make it a very different experience to shopping in Birmingham at Christmas. The sense of community permeates the event and gives it meaning beyond simply shopping. Prevents it causing that hollow feeling you have after shopping at the mall.
Another important part of the day is that we watch a Christmas movie. Specifically Elf! I love this film and will watch it four or five times over the festive period. I love it because it makes me laugh out loud. Again and again. Every time I see it. My favourite bits are when Buddy the elf runs into a locker, when he gets knocked down by a taxi and when he does a really long belch. It is not subtle humour. I love the childlike quality of Buddy – his absolute inability to give in to negativity or despair. I love his playfulness. I think that too often people associate the solemn and serious with profundity and depth; regard the playful and light-hearted as shallow. My experience is that, conversely, the deeper truth lies within the playful approach. In Shakespeare’s plays the wisest characters are often the Fools. I think it is important that Christmas is a time when we are allowed to be playful: tell jokes, have fun, play the Fool. I hope that you find space to have a laugh this Christmas.