This morning’s newspaper headlines terrified me so much I didn’t even bother to read the articles. No more Christmas, that’s all I needed to know.
No more Incarnation, which is what people celebrate at Christmas. Therefore no Jesus Christ. No Crucifixion. No Resurrection. None of that.
Extrapolating just a little, also cancelled must be Christian civilisation. Along with, according to the distinction popular in German philosophy, Christian culture. No Bach, Handel, Monteverdi, Palestrina, not to mention carols and hymns. No Dante, Donne, Bunyan, Chesterton, C.S. Lewis. Certainly no Augustine and Aquinas. No painting earlier than the 18th century.
And what’s going to happen to all those great cathedrals? Chartres, Rheims, Bourges, Lincoln, Durham, Seville, Duomo? Are we going to blow them up, the way the Soviets blew up the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in 1931? Or, also following the Soviets’ lead, convert them to warehouses and museums of atheism?
I was panic-stricken, desperate to do something about that outrage, even more desperate knowing there was nothing I could do… As I was hyperventilating, Penelope came in and told me not to be a bloody fool. Read the articles, she said, don’t just skim the headlines. Who knows, you may even learn something in your dotage.
Women can be so cruel, don’t you think? Anyway, just this once I suppressed my normally assertive masculinity and did as I was told. And what do you know? It was a false alarm.
Nobody is cancelling all those things, the possibility of losing which threw me into a tailspin. Some pedants may argue they were cancelled long ago anyway, if only figuratively speaking, but we’re not going to indulge such casuistry, are we now?
So what then is cancelled? Something must be, for otherwise the papers would be lying, and we know they never do. Sure enough, something is.
Cancelled, or rather curtailed, isn’t Christmas qua Christmas, but the shamanistic rituals surrounding it. Such as the last-minute stampede of grex venalium threatening to bring the walls of department stores down, Jericho style. Or sacramental sacrifices to the God of Christmas Sales. Or long queues to sweep up millions of useless trinkets that, come 27 December, usually end up in the bin, attics or at the back of countless wardrobes.
Cancelled are interminable days in the company of Nan, Grandpa, Mum, Dad, numerous cousins once removed though not, as one may cordially wish, once and for all, Uncle Roger and Auntie Sharon, all wearing silly paper hats and jumpers with reindeer embroidered across the chest.
Cancelled is the throng of humanity listening with half an ear to Her Majesty’s speech, while keeping half an eye on the oven, where the last drops of juice are being cooked out of the plastic supermarket turkey.
Cancelled are the aforementioned relations straining to have fun as they know they must, and only succeeding in coming across as people who pretend to be enjoying themselves.
Also cancelled is the pile of gift-wrapped presents under the Christmas tree, which the children are about to distribute and the adults will accept with fulsome expressions of put-on gratitude and elation. Can you just hear those shrieks of feigned joy? Well, you can’t. They’ve been cancelled.
And then comes the desperately hungover Boxing Day, with the cocktail of Gordon’s, cheap plonk and bad port still churning in the blood stream to deadly effect. A hair of the dog would be nice, but that’s not something Nan and Grandpa will countenance.
For the outlanders among you, Boxing Day isn’t the time for Uncle Roger and Auntie Sharon to go a couple of rounds, as they probably do back home. It’s when all those useless trinkets are put into boxes, along with the tinsels, serpentine and funny hats. Well, that can still happen but, with Christmas cancelled, shoe boxes may replace the usual cardboard crates.
You might have detected a note of sarcasm in this verbal picture. You and yours may well have looked forward to the annual experience I’ve described so unkindly. Now it’s cancelled, please accept my apologies. I didn’t mean to gloat at your misfortune.
My aim was merely to rue that the real meaning of Christmas has been so widely forgotten, replaced as it has been by variably nice or sometimes annoying rituals. Such forgetfulness ineluctably leads to mass amnesia of what makes Western civilisation Western, of what makes it sublime.
If people actually celebrated the Incarnation of Our Lord on 25 December, then those festivities, no matter how tasteless and tedious, would acquire a deep meaning: “with God all things are possible”, even listening to Uncle Roger’s endless complaints about his gout. As it is, the resulting yawn becomes insuppressible.
So, in case I’m too lazy or too drunk to put pen to paper between now and Friday, a merry uncancellable Christmas to you all. As Diogenes would say, Covid too will pass, and there are still 369 shopping days to Christmas, 2021.