Spending too much time on social media I caught a joke, that the true nature of Christmas was unruly ghosts terrifying your boss into paying you more money.
As one half of a small business, and working a corporate job at the same time, it tickled me. Dickens pervades my view of ‘what Christmas should be’. The Victorian ideal of roaring fires, heaving tables of food, and perfectly decorated trees, with mournful ghosts hovering around as we all have a great time. Oddly, in this dream I am often outside looking in at this ideal Christmas.
At a certain age, it's difficult to escape that this time of year tends to be about two things: budgeting and ensuring family and children are all catered for. I spend half my time worrying and the other half wistfully staring through the proverbial ‘window’ of media and shops trying to work out what Christmas ‘should be’
Another gently haunting memory of this season is me as rebellious (read annoying) teenager. I remember being rude and dismissive to Dad, an English teacher and regular churchgoer who left open an essay by Hilaire Belloc (1873 – 1950) that I think he wanted me to read. It was called ‘A Remaining Christmas’ and written in 1928 and now out of print as far as I can tell.
Belloc was best described (in my view) as a ‘cantankerous Catholic’ and at the time I wasn’t interested in his overbearing traditionally religious view of Christmas, in fact I found it jarring as I wanted to do cool things and go to parties and hang out with cool people. Tradition was for oldies!
The essay lays out the writer's memory of Christmas at the family cottage in Suffolk. There are literal decking of halls with laurel and holly, and midnight mass in the private chapel for the guests with all the carols. Then a late evening turkey dinner the next day described in great detail with American guests. I haven’t returned to Belloc, he is too conservative and many of his views are very outdated. The essay though, reminds me of my dad and the importance of your own traditions whatever they are. The point being made in the essay is that change is inevitable and constant, it can seem to speed up away from us as we get older. Yet maintaining our own small celebratory ‘traditions’ can be a gentle lifebuoy that keeps us afloat.
The ideal Christmas is not the unattainable perfect recreation of old-world traditions but simply the pleasure of being mindful of things you like to do and a having a good excuse to do them. As a Scot married to a Dane, then in our house ‘Christmas’ has a typical Danish ‘Hygge’ influence. I would secretly like a New York Christmas with black tie, jazz band and champagne in a Manhattan penthouse, but a wet southside Glasgow one has become increasingly endearing despite the tumult of lockdowns and loss of the past few years.
The reason it has become so endearing is that it is ours and it took time to get there. Further, I had not appreciated the forming of these ‘traditions’ until the teenagers started telling me all the things they expected, listed out as rigid and certain as the opening of parliament. I realised for them we have been doing these activities since they were born, for us as new parents they seemed a bit meandering and informal, things we borrowed from memories of our Christmas pasts, and things we would like Christmas to be for them. Now we are all older then these activities we do and dishes we make for them are embedded as the things our family does and I am quietly surprised and moved by that.
Then the business we run, (which of course is what this blog is about) increasingly feels at this time of year like another member of the family jostling for space amongst our newly forming traditions.
Building a business is like trying to create new traditions and can be uncomfortable and all a bit unnecessary, even forced as in ‘do we have to bother with this or that thing’ Or once a year accommodating the cranky member of the family who has particular tastes or doesn’t like certain conversations, you long to just hide from it all or promise yourself that next year is a hotel.
Part of me still thinks the business was just supposed to remain a nice idea, an exciting experience, freeing us from the conventional momentarily and then back to the real day job.
But we are not looking through the window at someone else party. It is something that we made happen and its growing up faster than we expected. I am excited by that prospect because I know that change is inevitable and often it can be uncomfortable with bills and accounts and all that boring uncool stuff. But we can create our own future, by building our traditions to help us stay grounded. We can allow the ghosts of the past to have a seat at the table, as long as we remember to have a good time.