We know, from his diary entries, how much Evelyn Waugh disliked Christmas.
“The prospect of Christmas appalls me,” he writes, finding Christmas “rather dreary” and each year “duller and duller”.
Surprisingly however, he does not allow his characters to share his feelings.
“But my dear Sebastian, you can’t seriously believe it all.”
“I mean about Christmas and the star and the three kings and the ox and the ass.”
“Oh yes. I believe that. It’s a lovely idea.”
Christmas, a lovely idea.
“But you can’t believe things because they’re a lovely idea.” Charles continues.
“But I do,” Sebastian says. “That’s how I believe.”
Not yet tragic or decrepit, still the Sebastian we all like to remember. Sebastian with his broken ankle, spending summer at Brideshead. Friendship and love; boutonnières and insouciance. The same Sebastian who wishes for it to “… be like this always – always summer, always alone, the fruit always ripe and Aloysius in a good temper.”
Sebastian, filled with youthful nostalgia, innocence and hope. Like a child in December, watching the sky, hoping for snow.
All is red and gold and peace. Cheerful tunes, carols, latin verses and polite lyrics. Scented candles. The smell of pine, cinnamon and clove. Deep red and lily white poinsettias line the windows. Last minute purchases, hasty and hurried, a tired wrapping counter running out of ribbon.
Glitter in the nail polish, mulled wine in our cups. Greeting cards for the traditionalists. E-cards for the late; personalized and musical. People behind counters and desk smile helpfully and if there is no glass panel separating us, jovially hold out their hand. Grumpy neighbours turn amiable. Boys and girls wearing last year’s reindeer hats.
An excuse for excess or a chance to go skiing for some, an intense moment of belief for others. And with no room at the inn, a manger in a stable becomes the birthplace of faith. Stars and kings, oxen and asses.
Tomorrow then the big day. Christmas Eve, midnight mass, Christmas lunch… to each his own tradition.
One tradition however we all share. That of the sales man, holding up his tree, repeating the season’s biggest lie.
“This tree will not lose its needles.”
A lovely idea indeed.