It Isn’t Beginning To Feel A Lot Like Christmas, Is It?
Simply having a wonderful Christmastime, yet? In the movieworld, Christmas doesn’t officially begin until today – ‘November the sodding 19th’’ when Hugh Grant’s Will Freeman goes late-year supermarket shopping in About A Boy (2002). Over the airwaves comes the truly awful strains of his one hit wonder father’s 1958 hit, Santa’s Super Sleigh: ‘…6 weeks before Christmas already they were playing the bloody thing.’
I wonder if Stella McCartney feels the same about the annual return of her Dad’s tinkly Christmas 1979 hitt? For not even the John Lewis seasonal ad nor a blast of St Michael’s Magic and Sparkle can herald the official commercial start of Christmas quite like one’s first hearing of Paul McCartney’s annual warbling over the airwaves as you’re sitting enjoying a coffee in some café or blithely wandering through a shopping centre.
Magical shimmer must touch the heart
And the very fact that so many of us witness all these glittery hints of the coming festivities but can’t help ourselves feeling nonplussed just the same is exactly what About A Boy manages to capture. You can have us much post-Hallowe’en fairy lights strung throughout our shopping streets as you like but if you don’t feel Christmassy, then all those store managers and town centres wishing it so ain’t gonna make a hill of beans of difference. Look again at Will Freeman. His entire life has been defined by Christmas and the seasonal royalties that pay for his flash life, but it’s as if the magical shimmer of the festival hasn’t touched his heart. He’s a selfish git to be honest, a latterday Scrooge needing to learn how to care by Nicholas Hoult’s 12 year old lost boy, Marcus.
So, when does Christmas really begin? As a child, there was a moment when I could sense it on the air. Presumably a perfect storm of a drop in temperature, a shift in light when the contrast of winter darkness against street lights and inviting domestic interiors became just so, the subtle scent of decaying autumn leaves mixed with fresh citrus fruits and nutmeg drifting on a chilly breeze… Maybe. I still hope for that shivery sensation (‘Christmas!) but these days I tend to wait until Advent itself before I dare myself to even start thinking about it. (Unless I’m writing this blog of course.)
Stirring up a season of goodwill
The Americans seem to have got the balance right. Thanksgiving Day is celebrated with a family dinner on the last Thursday in November, so it’s very easy to put off any Xmas-talk until then. (Thanksgiving has also spawned its own sub-genre of movies such as Home For The Holidays and The Ice Storm.) But since that’s a date Britons are unable to import from across the Pond, ever since Halloween was over-commercialised over here from the moment a crack team from Woolies went to the US and brought a glut of black and bright orange horror to sell here  , November 1st seems to have been designated the unofficial beginning of Yule. At least for anyone planning on making the cash tills ring from the sale of all things glittery.
For those who wish to bring some old-style tradition into their family preparations – and this is one that is continued to be passed down generations – then let’s give a hand for Stir Up Sunday. It’s a largely unheralded pre-Christmas event on the Sunday before Advent 1. In the cycle of Anglican readings, this is the day the opening prayer – or collect – begins ‘Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord.’ At that moment in the service good Christian wives have been known to give each other a nod across the aisle. For this is also the ideal day to make the Christmas pudding if it is to be suitably matured in time for the Big Day. I have never made a Christmas pudding in my entire life but I remember the sense of occasion during the Seventies of Mum’s huge ceramic bowl filled with its rich mix, and the fruity promise it represented. It is a wonder that no one has made even a short film set around this event. Cinematically, we Brits really do need something after Hallowe’en and the consumerist downer of Will Freeman’s too-early Santa’s Super Sleigh to get us in a better mood and prepare the palate for the over-sugary onslaught of too many Christmas movies.