A Dickensian Christmas

I am still struggling along with the very early morning shifts, filling those shelves with all the useful and much needed Christmas stuff people seem to spend their hard earned wages on at this time of year. But somewhat surprisingly, that has not be playing on my mind as much as it has in previous years.

Every morning when I leave the house, I see a star in the night sky that is so bright it outshines all the others. It struck me a few mornings ago, that it might be the same one as the one in the Christmas nativity story. I don’t know anything about astronomy, and clearly not much about religion either, but it is very bright and it has become a reassuringly welcome site as I leave the house each very cold and dark, and often damp morning. From what I can tell, according to the inter-webs anyway, it is either Sirrius, a.k.a The Dog Star, or Venus, a.k.a a planet. And I am no wiser as to it’s history. And when I did start to look for it on the internet, it ruined the moment, so I quickly stopped.

What it is that strikes me as I make my way into work each morning, is just how persistent these stories from our childhood can be. Even now, what is fundamentally a text from within a religion that under a third of the planet defines itself as believers of, has managed to inveigle itself into the economy, and the apparently non-denominational mainstream culture, across large sections of the planet. And at least in the UK, it has become such an important stage in the accounting cycle of the retail sector, that success or failure in the weeks leading up to Christmas can determine whether a company survives or folds.

And this has very serious implications for a great many people. For many retailers, the new year will start with the slow realisation of their inevitable march towards winding up their companies. But don’t feel too sorry for the owners. In the case of the bigger companies, much of the profits will have already been syphoned off and squirrelled away in tax havens. No, the real threat to our societies and communities will be the redundancies of the workers at the companies that didn’t make it, the decimation of our high streets, and the low-wage tax-avoidance sweat-shop model that replaces it.

In terms of those workers that will be receiving their redundancy notices, there will be some who will now be facing the coldest months of the year not knowing how to heat their homes and feed their children. And whereas before we would have looked to our families, communities and wider society to support one another, the insidious philosophy that is now controlling our societies has managed to arrest, and arguably regress human development altogether.

When I was growing up, for the adults at least, Christmas was about the family, friends and neighbours coming together. It was about trying to put to one side all the petty grievances and irritations. There were games, and there was laughter. There was also tears and arguments. But every year, we came back together and tried again. As the years pass, and the 0.1% reach further and deeper into our private lives, there is less and less space where we can come together without someone trying to profit from it. Christmas hasn’t been the same for me since the voices of the multi-nationals and the celebrities began to drown out the voices of my loved ones.

I suppose there is a part of me that likes to think that it is the same star. It certainly isn’t anything to do with the religious or commercial framework that struggles to define and own it. No, if anything, I think it is more likely to be the idea that however far we regress, there are some things that were here before us and will still be here long after us.

Sorry for the rambling. I am currently carrying a rather heavy head cold, and the brain doesn’t seem to be focussing quite right. Anyway, I thought I would take this opportunity to repost a recent feature I had published in the Morning Star. It is called ‘It only takes one dissenting voice to cut through a torrent of hatred’ and was prompted by the increasing focus on the street-violence being perpetrated by a small number of thugs. For me, these acts of violence are a symptom of a wider problem in our society, a general acceptance of the superior/inferior dichotomy. And as difficult as it is to deal with a small group of persistent and violent criminals without the support of the authorities, stopping hatred and prejudice from festering in our own peer groups is something very achievable. Now that would make for a Merry Christmas and a happy new year.

To read it in full or to download a text version please click through to the page.