One of the most popular Christmas carols is a Welsh melody, dating back to the sixteenth century, called “Deck the Halls”. I was very surprised to discover that originally, carols were dances and not songs. The tune would have been used as a setting for the dance, and singers would compete with each other to compose the lyrics, impromptu. Eventually carols became separated from the original dances, but retained their traditional designation as “carols”. Anyway, “Deck the Halls” remains the carol which officially announces to one and all that the “season to be jolly” is here!
However, Christmas is not always a happy season for everyone. As one doctor wrote, “There’s nothing like the festive season to force you to face that fact that life isn’t always as joyful and as triumphant as we are led to believe”. Indeed, although for many people, Christmas is a happy and joyous feast in which they celebrate and are reunited with family and friends, for some others, it can be a very sad time, one which highlights their loneliness or isolation from loved ones. Not to mention the stressors of a financial or physical nature on most people, whose daily lives are interrupted by the undue pressure to purchase gifts, cook lavish lunches and dinners, and so many other things to catch up with outside their normal already-too-busy routine.
Actually, if you come to think of it, the first Christmas was such a stressful event! Joseph and Mary encountered a very arduous experience as a family. Not only were they low on financial resources, but they could not even use what little they had to rent out a room, in order for Mary to give birth to their baby in comfort. Separated from the rest of their extended family, they had to settle for a stable, far away from their hometown, where Mary found only a manger in which to lay her new-born son. Certainly, were it not for the great joy which the birth of the Messiah brought to the world, it would have been a very dismal Christmas indeed. But this wondrous joy outweighed all the difficulties and drawbacks! The rest is history; but I do believe that we need to take a realistic look at this first Christmas to put into perspective as to how we should celebrate “the season to be jolly” in our present time.
Let’s start by considering those endless holiday parties. The definition of the word “party”” is “a social gathering of invited guests, typically involving eating, drinking and entertainment”. In the first instance, who’s to decide that those guests shouldn’t include one or two people who may not receive any invitations at all; people who would possibly welcome some company, rather than sit at home feeling lonely? Secondly, with regards to the food and drink, how about “pot-luck” dinners, where everyone brings along his or her signature dish, rather than lavish banquets for which one person (traditionally, the mother!) slaves away for days and days over a hot stove to produce masses of food which is enough to feed an army. As regards the entertainment, this doesn’t necessarily have to feature the consumption of loads and loads of alcohol in order to be fun. Rather, parties could be an opportunity to network with people whom we don’t normally have time to talk to, and be entertained by their stories. Gifts. They’re such a headache! How about trying to create warm memories rather than spend a lot of money on expensive presents? In my family, we have adopted the ‘Secret Santa’ tradition – everyone receives one gift from one family member, and before opening it, we have to guess who it’s from. It’s quite fun actually and leaves some money left over to donate to a charitable cause.
In many ways, Christmas is about being a child again. So, sing some carols, drink egg-nog, make some underprivileged members of the community happy and see the Christmas holidays through new eyes. There will be nothing but gratitude and less stress, with the result that it may indeed turn out to be a “season to be jolly” for one and all.
This article was first published by Times of Malta.