Tuesday, December 20, 2016

No Place Like Home?

I was watching one of those short films they show on Talking Pictures TV the other day under the umbrella title of 'Glimpses'.  They rarely run more than ten minutes and are usually public information films of some sort.  This particular one was called Christmas in Britain and had originally been commissioned by the Tourist Board or some similar organisation as part of an attempt to persuade people that the UK was a great holiday destination, even in winter.  Even though the film seemed to have been made around 1969-70 (judging by the cars), the vision of a British Christmas it conjures up could have been from ten, twenty, even thirty years earlier.  Highlights included the festive shop window displays in London, hearty celebrations in a rural village pub, a very middle class looking family Christmas, Christmas Day walks in the snowy countryside  and those wild Scottish Hogmany celebrations.  It was clearly aiming to sell the traditional 'Christmas card' image of Britain at Yule-tide to potential foreign visitors, despite the fact that, even in 1970, Christmases were very different - usually spent gathered round the TV after a few family rows, the pulling of some cheap crackers containing quickly forgotten plastic novelties and elderly relatives getting drunk on the sherry.

Indeed, trying to pitch Britain at Christmas as a desirable holiday destination, to my contemporary eyes at least, seems pretty strange.  The fact is that for a visitor, it represents a time when Britain is at its most insular - everyone turns inward, focusing on the family group and private celebrations at home.  Sure, you might well find the pubs opening late on Christmas Eve, with plenty of bonhomie on display, but once it gets to closing time, everyone just goes home, bringing an abrupt end to the celebrations for any visitors.  Not that anyone in their right mind would want to come to the UK at Christmas if they could help it, surely?  Every year, around this time, I find myself wondering why the Hell I don't go away at Christmas - why do I endure the cold, the damp, the dark gloomy days and all the false bonhomie year after year?  It isn't as if there is anything holding me here over the festive period: I'm not religious, I gave up on family Christmases decades ago and my closest friends mostly have families of their own to celebrate with, so I tend not to see them over the festive period.  So, why don't I take my weary bones off to somewhere warm, sunny and Christmas free for a couple of weeks every December?  The answer, of course, is that it somehow wouldn't 'feel right'.  Those images of a traditional British Christmas promoted by that film are so deeply ingrained in our psyches, thanks to a lifetime of socialisation, indoctrination and media imagery, that this time of year is inextricably linked, in our minds, with the idea of hearth and home.  Even for those of us who avoid family Christmases, the idea of not being at home during this time, still seems inconceivable.  Consequently, here I am, feeling exhausted and depressed, yet still planning to stay at home again at Christmas.

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