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XX Notes: Christmas is Banned

Published on: 22 Nov, 2020
Updated on: 24 Nov, 2020

Maria Rayner

Maria Rayner‘s observational, fortnightly column from a woman’s perspective…

Don’t worry, I do not have any inside knowledge. For all I know, Christmas 2020 is still going ahead. Whether families will be able to get together to celebrate is still under discussion.

That headline comes from 1647. Did you know Christmas was banned for 20 years in England when the Puritans were in charge? Nor did I, until I googled “Xmas ban”.

Puritanism: The Haunting Fear That Someone, Somewhere, May Be Happy

Warwick University says Christmas was considered a pagan festival and the 25th December was not a named religious day in the Bible. But it was an excuse for the population to get drunk and indulge in promiscuity, gambling and other licentious behaviour.

Cromwell enforced the ban and all shops and markets had to stay open. Churches were locked to prevent them holding a Yuletide service.

How different a ban on Christmas might be if it was announced in 2020. Churches are still locked for services but many shops and markets are shut too.

The Christmas Lights Switch-on

It’s sad when a VisitSurrey events page is empty. No lists of minor celebrities switching on festive lights. These events signal the start of late-night shopping, Christmas markets and outdoor meet-ups for young and old.

Image courtesy Guildford Past & Present FaceBook

I write “sad”, but I haven’t braved the crowds for many years. The memory of being jostled by mulled wine-tipsy adults, juggling a mobile to arrange a rendezvous with my husband, who had typically missed the train, while trying not to lose a small child was not outweighed by the dazzle of the illuminations.

When my precocious three-year-old turned to me, saying: “That’s not Father Christmas, it’s a man dressed up”, I lost the plot and vowed not to bother again.

My colleague, who lives in Farnham, told me the lights are on. Working from home has meant we rarely get out and about in the daylight hours and she took a stroll round town to see them. It sounds a saner way to experience the sparkle.

Xmas Shopping

Click-and-collect. Delivered to the door. Non-essential purchases from large supermarkets or garden centres. Christmas shopping has been changing for a few years now, but the pandemic has certainly speeded the uptake of this trend.

With the announcement this week that two more High Street shops are in trouble, Jaeger and Peacocks, when we emerge, newly jabbed and blinking into the Spring sunlight, the High Street will be an unfamiliar place.

For nearly 20 years I took a trip to Kingston, Southampton or somewhere more exotic than Guildford (OK, somewhere with a John Lewis) to “do the Christmas Shopping” with the same three friends. And every year there is less time spent buying and more time spent drinking coffee and eating lunch.

It’s nice to wander round the department stores but I’d rather click-and-collect in Waitrose in Guildford than lug heavy bags down to the car park. In fact, I’d prefer to buy from local independent shops.

If you don’t use ‘em, you’ll lose ‘em. Christmas shopping has become a social event. And social events are definitely banned under Covid.

Work Xmas Do

It’s a long time since I stood on a table to make a speech at the work Christmas do (I was distributing the Secret Santas) and, full of Christmas spirit, nearly fell through the large glass window behind me. That’s as licentious as it got for me, no photocopying body parts or kissing the boss.

Again, social occasions are banned and a Zoom party will leave you giddy in front of your laptop, something I’ve managed to avoid in Lockdown 2. I have seen an outdoor venue pen for socially distanced Christmas parties over towards Dorking, so it may be possible to party in your work bubble once restrictions are lifted.

Big Supermarket Shop

The good news: supermarkets are open. The bad news: big parties, neighbourly drinks and extended family get-togethers are almost certainly cancelled. You might be able to fill a big trolley with goodies, but you’ll be eating it all on your own.

Spare a thought for turkey farmers, cheese truckle producers and Quality Street. Christmas will be a scaled-down affair, if it happens at all.

Don’t forget the Yvonne Arnaud’s  Snow Queen online production from December 11

Pantomime

The theatre scene has been obliterated by coronavirus. Although a handful of Covid-secure performances were allowed from September, theatres closed again in November.

Back in July, Guildford’s Yvonne Arnaud cancelled Robin Hood, reminding families the decision was not taken lightly. Revenue from the panto supports the venue for the rest of the year.

Some may say the political scene is providing enough entertaining villains and we can warn Boris that “He’s behind you”, but Gove or Cummings are no match for PG on a good day. Visit Whatsonstage website for 10 ways to help out theatres.

Boxing Day/Post Xmas Sports Match

What do you do in the slump between Christmas and New Year? Visit family: out. Boxing Day footie: unlikely. For our family, it is usually The Big Game, when Harlequins pop down the road to Twickenham Stadium to play the biggest game of club rugby in the world.

Quins website says it is postponed until Spring, no date as yet but everything crossed that we’ll be donning our jester hats and waving at Charley and Harley, the mascot bears by April.

Of course, I’m well aware many families will be struggling this Christmas, even in wealthy Surrey. It’s not only being separated from loved ones that will be hard. Everyone has a favourite charity and most have a Christmas appeal.

But foodbanks are asking for those special things you remember from your childhood, chocolate oranges, something minty. The Royal Surrey is asking people to Pledge a Present instead of the usual shoebox gifts.

And the Puritan ban? It had the perverse effect of making Christmas less religious as people still stopped work on the 25th December and secretly treated it as a time to eat, drink and enjoy themselves. We can still do that.

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