Wednesday, 17 December 2014

France's gathering gloom

 According to a recent YouGov poll, France is the northern European country that cares least about Christmas. This might reflect the state of the French economy, or cultural attitudes, (perhaps a more generalised negativity, sang froid or hauteur), or maybe the pollsters' sample just happened to include a more-than-averagely grumpy subset of the population - I really don't know. But Christmas itself isn't all joy to the world:
Myrrh is mine, its bitter perfume
Breathes a life of gathering gloom
Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying
Sealed in the stone-cold tomb.
And have yourself a merry little Christmas now...

Christmas marks a cardinal point in the worship of a sacrificial death-and-rebirth deity, whose cult thrived when transplanted to latitudes where all of nature seems to die in Winter and is re-born in Spring and where millennia of pre-Christian worship already reflected the decline and renewal of the life-giving sun. Although Christmas day and the winter solstice don't exactly coincide any more, 'December 25th was the date of the winter solstice in the calendar Julius Caesar devised for Rome in 46BC.'

You don't just sing about gathering gloom at this time of year, you can still feel it all around, as the daylight shrinks and the darkness reaches its greatest extent. Even a modern, industrial society with electric lighting, central heating and supermarkets full of imported satsumas from sunnier places can't quite keep the literal gloom at bay.

Given the connection between Christmas and the winter solstice, I'm not that interested in which northern European countries are more or less likely to enter into the spirit of Christmas. I'd be more interested to see whether or not there's any correlation between Christmas enthusiasm and the prevalence, or lack of, darkness and cold at this time of year.

Do northern Europeans (and people in the higher latitudes of North America) get more excited about Christmas than people who live in the southern hemisphere, or at latitudes where the great division isn't between cold, dark winter and light, warm summer, but between the dry and rainy seasons? Is a Christmas barbie on Bondi Beach or Copacabana less of a big deal than the massive knees-up Europeans invented to brighten up their bleak midwinters? Or is Christmas now so well-established, culturally and commercially, that it thrives when transplanted to any latitude? Maybe the only hint of darkness it now needs comes on Black Friday.

I dunno or, as the French would put it, *shrug*.