Magazine article The Spectator

Sounds Familiar

Magazine article The Spectator

Sounds Familiar

Article excerpt

Those of a world-weary disposition will not need reminding that Christmas begins sometime in late November. In economically dynamic countries like our own it can even be earlier than that, as everyone rushes to make up for the lower-than-predicted profits of the preceding months. At this stage of the proceedings the famous Christmas spirit consists of talking people into buying as many things as possible that they never knew they wanted; it is only round about 24 December that the mood may change, and we feel able at last to rest from the labour of unbridled buying and turn towards eating and drinking.

In America, where I am currently engaged on a 'Christmas' tour, the advent (so to speak) of the festive season is delayed by Thanksgiving. The timing of Thanksgiving means that families here are obliged to go through the rigmarole of buying presents and then eating excessively in each other's company twice in less than a month, though I do get the impression that this celebration, with its much simpler and more self-centred message, has a real emotional charge and purpose to it, which the hijacked Christmas has completely lost.

We started this tour in Charlottesville, Virginia, where Thomas Jefferson built himself a house and a university. One version of seasonal preparation could be read on the doors of the pretty student rooms that Jefferson had built behind the arcading. Posters advertised the Lighting of the Lawn, a traditional event which takes place on 5 December with the singing of carols and wassails by members of Glee Clubs dressed in evening wear with the addition of red floppy hats with white bobbles on top. On 2 December tickets for this event, and several subsequent performances by trained ensembles, were doing a brisk trade from student stalls set up in sub-zero temperatures.

If this might be called the educated version of the universal cliche, back at the hotel a more populist take was in evidence, where exactly the same carols and wassails were being sung in a lobby livid with poinsettias and smelling of cinnamon, by other people, dressed in evening wear with the regulation Santa Claus hats atop their heads. And in every public place throughout Charlottesville publicity for Christmas concerts was on display, every one of which felt it necessary to follow the same design: red and green as the basic colours, featuring angels and mistletoe and holly, promising candlelight, emphasising the suitability of it all for children. …

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