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Velvet Viewpoint: Embracing an alternative Christmas

Cambridge writer Tia Byer says a smaller, simpler Christmas could be just as special as the normal social whirl - if not more so

Decorating with natural materials taps into ancient Nordic tradition, writes Tia Byer (43391897)
Decorating with natural materials taps into ancient Nordic tradition, writes Tia Byer (43391897)

For many of us, Christmas just won’t be the same this year. With continued social distancing measures impacting on the usual Christmas get-togethers and New Year’s parties, this year’s festivities are looking very different. Even our much-loved street fairs and gift markets have been cancelled or moved online. And whilst our trusty Carols from Kings will still be televised come Christmas Eve, one might question whether a coronavirus-Christmas is even worth celebrating.

However, a socially distanced festive season could, in fact, be exactly what we need. Without the bustle and overly hectic social rounds normally made necessary by this time of year, a secluded Christmas can give rise to a period of self-reflection and thanksgiving. In fact, this year’s exceptional circumstances provide an opportunity to embrace and return to a more traditional holiday celebration. So how can we find meaning in this alternative and bizarre festive season? And why is it time to recapture the true meaning of Christmas now more than ever?

Without the noise, the demands and overly consumptive side effects of what it means to have a 21st century Christmas, 2020’s holiday season could be the perfect time to press reset on what’s been a very difficult year. And with this, we can all draw some much-needed meaning from the traditions of Christmastide past. From our earliest recordings, Christmas has been about celebrating and taking comfort in family and loved ones.

Take the biblical origin of Christmas for example. Whether or not you believe in the story of the nativity literally, there is an undeniable quaintness to it. The image of the little family celebrating their first Christmas together in a Bethlehem stable is heart-warming, to say the least. And while admittedly we won’t be welcoming any bearers of gifts from distant lands into our homes this year, we can definitely embrace, just like the nativity, a simpler and more wholesome celebration.

The act of creating a cosy Christmas by the fire is also a historic past-time we can make the most of. In the Norse countries, centuries before Jesus, winter celebrations were known as Yule. Occurring every winter solstice, Yule traditions referred to the gathering of yule logs to put onto the fire. The burning of the yule log symbolized the continuation of light despite the harsh cold and darkness of the Nordic winter. And the warmth and safety it provided served to remind of the return of light and hope in the days ahead.

With the idea of sheltering from external dangers being a spookily familiar notion of late, another Norse tradition to cherish is the act of bringing evergreens into the home. As the one plant that could survive a Norse winter, evergreens symbolized the persistence of life during the harsh conditions of the solstice. However, it wouldn’t be until Queen Victoria came to the throne that the idea of a decorated Christmas tree would become a mainstream trend. With candles being used to represent the stars of the night sky - and with that celebrate the beauty of the natural earth - the decorating of the Christmas tree became an act of thanksgiving.

But one of the most enduring legacies of a Victorian Christmas has got to be Charles Dickens’s beloved fable, A Christmas Carol. Arguably one of English Literature’s most enjoyed ghost stories, A Christmas Carol has become a staple seasonal read. But its true impact goes far beyond literary legacy. With cherished characters such as Tiny Tim, Bob Cratchett and the Ghost of Christmas Past, the eerie tale gave way to Dickens himself being hailed “the man who invented Christmas”. But it is the transformation of bitter and unloving miser Ebenezer Scrooge into a charitable and kind gentleman that really cements A Christmas Carol into the nation’s cultural consciousness.

Dickens’s moral of helping the less fortunate has perhaps never been so relevant as it is today. Whether it’s helping somebody shielding this holiday season with their Christmas shopping, or getting in touch with someone you’ve lost touch with, let us continue to support each other in the days ahead. Christmas isn’t always easy, even at the best of times; this year, it will no doubt be even harder on the lonely and vulnerable. But with gratitude and care, we can help to make this alternative yuletide one of love, kindness and appreciation.


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