06 December 2018
A Modern Christmas
In a digital age.
By Chin Chin
“Christmas comes but once a year” and that’s quite enough in my book. Yes, I can see that it was fun in Victorian times, sitting there in front of a roaring fire, glass in hand, attentive females listening admiringly to one’s reading of Dickens, and every now and then bestowing a few pence on the carol singers standing freezing at the door. Medieval Christmas must have been jolly too with the best chaps safely away on crusade, leaving the young ladies to be chatted up over a pleasant glass of mead. Not too good, of course, when they came back from their crusading and discovered that you had been messing with their girlfriends, but there must have been a good chance that that would never happen. “Every bullet has its billet” as William III said rather optimistically, and I expect that the story was much the same with lances.
Things have moved on a bit since then, and for a long time that didn’t really matter. It is true that there are no more crusades, but it’s still possible to read Dickens round the fire even if no one listens.
“What about some Dickens?” you call out.
“Already stuffed,” comes the reply from the kitchen.
“I said ‘Dickens’ not ‘chickens’. You know, about Scrooge”
“I certainly do” – in a tone which you do not particularly care for.
And of course she has a point. These days it’s much harder to find a good quality present because everything has gone digital. Once one could give CDs and books. But now those are disappearing. Music is streamed off the internet and most people read on Kindle. What does that leave? Clothes, I suppose, and chocolates. They are all very well in their way, but as regular presents they have shortcomings. Socks are always useful, of course, and their usefulness does not depend on the taste of the giver. If someone gives you socks with images of reindeer woven into them you just take care to wear them with good length trousers. The receipt of a tie, on the other hand, can leave you with some explaining to do:
“Why aren’t you wearing the tie from your stocking?” one of Santa’s little helpers will exclaim across the lunch table.
“Er, I am saving it for a special occasion,” you reply.
“But it’s a Christmas tie with holly berries on it, so you should be wearing it today.”
“Oh, were those holly berries? I didn’t realise.”
“What did you think they were, silly?”
“When would you wear a tie with blood spots on it?”
“If I was murdering a child.” And you accompany the answer with a look so sinister that it buys you peace for the rest of the meal.
Alas, in your dreams. In reality, the presence of the child’s parent prevents this robust approach. What actually happens is you go off to your room, put the hideous holly berry tie around your neck and come in grinning as if you had rigor of the chin. Fortunately, the tie itself makes you look so foolish that your expression can do no further damage.
Is it better then to open your present and discover a box of chocolates inside with some promising word like “Charbonnel” or “Bendick” on the packaging? That rather depends on where you are. In rural communities, boxes of chocolates are like bitcoins, an alternative means of exchange. You go out to lunch and you present your hostess with a box of chocolates. Later that week the vicar does her a favour and the chocolates get passed on to the rectory. The vicar is visiting a sick parishioner next day and wants something to cheer him up. The chocolates move again. The parishioner’s executors take some months to administer the estate but are about to take what is left to the dump when they spot the chocolates which have been sitting on a pile of books in their boiler room. One of the executors is going out to dinner that evening…
Some months later you yourself give a lunch party. One of the guests produces a box of chocolates which looks vaguely familiar, apologising for the fact that the packaging is slightly damaged.
“I am sorry, the shop must have dropped the box,” she lies.
“Never mind, it is what is inside that counts,” you answer. “I’ll keep them for a special occasion.” Opening them now could cause embarrassment. Worse still it would breach one of the unspoken conventions upon which the health of the rural economy is founded. After all, the opening of all the chocolates in the community would be the equivalent of a run on the bank.
If the digital age has made it harder to find presents, there is one area in which it could improve Christmas immeasurably. Digital Christmas cards are already with us and I’m sure that there is an app which will automatically resend them to the same list of recipients every December. In a sense, of course, that only replicates what happens already. Who does not have a drawer of special cards from important people with whom contact had been lost, which can be put out, year after year, on the mantelpiece? The only risk is that the sender has died as I discovered last year when I put out a card which I received from Margaret Thatcher in her Department of Education days.
As the digital age progresses it will all become easier. Hard cards will soon be a thing of the past and we will just have screens on our mantelpieces showing the greetings which have come in electronically. Who will be able to tell in which year they were received? Nobody really, unless you show cards from people who are dead. Even that will be less embarrassing. You should, after all, be able to cover your deception by suggesting that the computer must have got into a muddle.