In my childhood, which was long ago than I care to detail here, this time of year was always magical. It began with the School Nativity Play, when pre-teens down to toddlers of four took part in various productions of the Bethlehem Story with tea-towels wrapped round our heads and our best doll playing the infant Jesus. Mums and Dads would crowd into the school hall and perch on those tiny chairs, snapping away at their babies, and Dad would stand at the back and take a movie of the entire production.
That was long ago, before the word 'paedophile' was bandied about like a new flu virus that anyone could catch and we all need protecting from. Now proud Mums and Dads aren't even allowed to take their mobile phones into the play in case they take illicit photographs of their own children, and Dads are frisked at the door by the movie camera mafia to make sure he hasn't smuggled one in. One school headmistress has blacked out the eyes of the girls' pictures in the school yearbook in case their faces are 'superimposed on obscene images on the internet'.
Don't despair though, the school has the solution to how you can keep a record of little Charlie/Charlotte's debut performance? They will take the video themselves and sell a copy to parents at an inflated price!
I always looked forward to being taken to London to see Oxford Street strung with a profusion of lights, with trees, angels and reindeer layered thick enough to be visible from an orbiting spaceship. The specially dressed windows in Selfridges and Harrods were always crowded with kids in mittens and wooly hats, their noses pressed to the widows to see the electric trains, nodding bears, fairies and elves in a clockwork show of their own.
|South Molton Street|
But we aren't supposed to call them Festive, Christmas, or Seasonal Lights, now we have 'Holiday Lights', often sponsored by film companies plugging their next cartoon - this year it's Arthur Christmas. Christmas trees are now called 'Holiday trees', and whatever you do don't mention that it's a religious festival - it might upset people of other faiths.
Then there was the eagerly anticipated trip to see Santa in his grotto, kindly, red-cheeked, ho-ho-hoing Santa. We sat on his knee, not caring at all that his ill-fitting beard kept slipping and his breath whiffed a bit of the lager he'd quaffed at the employee lunch - our mission was to issue a detailed list of what we wanted for Christmas - from a written document if necessary. It didn't matter that we came away with a plastic toy that broke after half an hour - Santa wouldn't dare pull that one on Christmas Eve at my house - we expected proper presents! Now the kids have to keep a distance - no knee sitting - touching, even smiling is not encouraged - just in case.
I want the old Christmas's back, I miss them - or is it my age and inherent cynicism which makes me see it this way?