Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Christmas Comes but Once a Year -- Starting in November

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Christmas Comes but Once a Year -- Starting in November

Article excerpt

Byline: DAVID SEXTON

THE SEASONS: AN ELEGY FOR THE PASSING OF THE YEAR by Nick Groom (Atlantic Books, [pounds sterling]22) DAVID SEXTON THE poet Thomas Hood (1799-1845) didn't reckon much to this time of year. In a poem called simply No! he wrote: No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease, No comfortable feel in any member -- No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees, No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds -- November! To which one can only answer: yes! The poem is one of the many little treasures in this curious hodge-podge of a book -- "part history, part almanac and part polemic" -- by a professor of English at the University of Exeter who lives on Dartmoor and concludes his author biography with the promise, or warning, that "when he is not writing he can be found playing the hurdy-gurdy in local pubs".

Nick Groom is a propagandist for all kinds of seasonal festivals and observances, "the cultural calendar of England", he specifies, for this book does not embrace the Scots, the Welsh and the Irish. Indeed, he rues the extent to which the English have "allowed our bountiful harvest home of traditions to become subsumed and dissolved within the Union" and calls for "a new and long overdue devolution, that of England from Britain".

To this end, he describes lots of half-forgotten folk customs and quotes extensively from the poets, all from a time when the calendar mattered more than it does now that the seasons are blurring and changing. Groom is a deeply nostalgic ruralist, lamenting the way the countryside "has become something to be consumed". But he does also admit that "the festive calendar is diverse and often antithetical, always changing and perpetually reinvented, elusive and fugitive". Much of what we take for tradition is recent fantasy.

"December is Christmas: it is impossible to dissociate the two, especially in England. The whole month looks forward to Christmas Day, 25 December," he says. But Christmas has changed dramatically over the centuries. "Christmas today is more a global capitalist enterprise than a Christian festival, and it is revealing that that the paraphernalia required for a 'traditional' Christmas tend to be Victorian commodifications of the season rather than older customs that might not be packaged so readily and sold quite so conveniently," Groom observes. …

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