If Charles Dickens had combined his own capacity for overwrought emotional fantasy with H.G. Wells’s talent for speculative fiction, A Christmas Carol might have come close to foreshadowing the maddening ghastliness that Englishmen like me have been obliged to suffer since childhood.
Enterprise and inventiveness perverted for profit, ever brighter lights and ever louder noise, Mammon ascending on one side of the funicular while Christ sinks on the other – these have been the distinguishing features of Christmas beyond the doors of my various family homes and churches these sixty years. In all its public manifestations it has become a festival that only the godless can truly enjoy, while the twin demons of retail and broadcasting have made glowering Scrooges of the faithful.
And yet ‘Scrooge’ remains a term of abuse, implying a callous and miserly kill-joy, whereas anyone who shouts ‘Bah! Humbug!’ at a sentimental multi-ethnic video clip promoting a department store is more likely than anyone to boycott the place and stuff the money they save into the poor box.
This, however, is not my subject today. We are fortunate in that, although we live in the centre of town, our route from home to church and back takes us past no shops or street illuminations at all, while our TV – a neglected beast at any time of year – has been used only to entertain resident and visiting children with wholesome tosh from the streaming service, and I have not had a glimpse of it. This means that my inner Scrooge has been dormant, and now stirs grumpily, snarling at a different object of his loathing, namely the monstrous exaltation of pointlessness that is New Year’s Eve.
I think I used to like New Year’s Eve. I dimly recall jolly evenings in the pub with friends, convivial parties, happy dinners. But then something snapped, and I’m pretty sure it happened twenty-two years and a couple of months ago, when I looked at all the manic waste of effort and money (public and private) that was going into hailing the arrival of the year 2000, and decided I wanted no piece of it.
Above all it was the institutionalised stupidity of it that got to me, the way nobody in government seems to have considered saying; ‘Look here, chaps. Two thousand years are over at the end of the two thousandth year, not its beginning. So, if you want to celebrate the start of the new millenium, you’ve got another twelve months to plan the party.’ That would have shown sense and leadership. But no. The kiddies wanted their presents early, and they had to be indulged, not just by being rewarded for their innumeracy, but with a whopping great puss-cloured blister full of tat on the Thames and countless civic embarrassments all over the nation.
When I began to grasp the full extent of the horror, I called the national paper I was freelancing for, and volunteered to run the Comment desk on New Year’s Eve. The friend in charge gave me her best silvery laugh, and told me that all those slots had been bagged months ago by other hacks dreading the imminent jollification – but that, if I wanted to tell people I was needed in the office, she’d happily back me up.
Mind you, the way our media treated the flipping of that particular page of the calendar as though it were in some way news was hardly edifying. It was that very night that one Vladimir Putin, former head of the KGB, took charge of a politically volatile and belligerent nuclear power on Europe’s doorstep, and yet what was the top story on the BBC the following morning? ‘Millions of people all over the world have been celebrating…’ All the front pages were the same.
So I’ve had it with New Year’s Eve. Even before that fake millenial day I had acquired a small reputation as a wet blanket, simply for refusing to sing Auld Lang Syne at other people’s parties and banning it altogether at my own, because it’s a rotten tune, nobody knows what it means, and I’m not Scottish.
This year, as usual, there was no escaping the public fireworks over the city (in the name of reason, Why?), so no chance of an early night. But at least Jools Holland was on the box. And then all of a sudden, just like that, it’s 2022.
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