Friday, 20 December 2013

Things we like about Christmas #12

I AM currently reading An Armenian Sketchbook by Vasily Grossman, a collection of observations and memoirs of the author from when he was professionally exiled by the Soviet Union to the southern Soviet state. The following is a quote from the book, from when the author first arrives in the capital, Yerevan:
Your first minutes on the streets of an unfamiliar city are always special; what happens in later months or years can never supplant them. These minutes are filled with the visual equivalent of nuclear energy, a kind of nuclear power of attention. […] During these minutes, like an omnipotent God, you bring a new world into being; you create, you build inside yourself a whole new city with all its streets and squares, with its courtyards and patios, with its sparrows, with its thousands of years of history, with its food shops and its shops for manufactured goods, with its opera house and its canteens. This city that suddenly arises from non-being is a special city; it differs from the city that exists in reality — it is the city of a particular person. Its autumn leaves have their own unique way of rustling; there is something special about the smell of its dust, about the way its young boys fire their catapults.

And it takes only a few minutes, not even hours, to accomplish this miracle of creation. And when a man dies, there dies with him a unique, unrepeatable world that he himself has created — a whole universe with its own oceans and mountains, with its own sky. These oceans and this sky are strikingly similar to the billions of oceans and skies in the minds of others; this universe is strikingly similar to the one and only universe that exists in its own right, regardless of humanity. But these mountains, these waves, this particular grass and this particular pea soup have something unique about them, something that has come into being only recently; they have their own tints, their own quiet splashing and rustling – they are a part of a particular universe that lives in the soul of the man who has created it.

I feel this way, too, both about travel and about occasions. What I take from a birthday, a wedding, a trip to the post box, will never be the same as any whom I accompany. And so Christmas, with familiar tropes and traditions, ought to be the same occasion for you and I, reader, and yet it never will be. Christmas has changed for me. Was it ever static? I now share the time between sets of parents and in-laws, each with their own traditions; this year, just one family for Christmas, gone is the recent tradition of pilgrimage along the A303: that will wait until New Year. Yet rather than be unsettled by ever changing traditions I shall this year be glad to see people, to be able – for the first time in four years – to be able to absorb events and details without the weight of an uncompleted PhD on my back. I can create a Christmas in my mind, with its tree decorations, family foibles and strange scheduling; the formal and the informal intercalated with the familiar and refreshingly new.

As media frenzies ensue with special programming and dozens of songs aiming for an unimportant Christmas milestone; as shops continue to fill our homes with stuff; the meaning of Christmas seems to be drowned out ever louder every year. Yet I simply look forward to sharing among others. And what I love about Christmas? That mine will not be the same as yours, and never should it ever be, for these moments are to be singularly savoured. Go, be merry. Go, create your own personal Christmas. Then share.

Thursday, 19 December 2013