Wednesday, December 24, 2003

Merry Victorian Christmas To All ....

Another glass of gluhwein to take away the vision of all the children's presents yet to be wrapped. And to try and lessen the bile-count induced by Madeleine Bunting's idiotic Guardian piece. Not worthy of a full fisk, but her take on the Victorians deserves a shoeing.

"The blame lies first of all with the Victorians. They pretty much invented Christmas - trees, Santa Claus, puddings, turkeys, decorations, cards, presents, family togetherness - ingeniously turning what had become a sober religious feast into a great festival requiring months of preparation. If women were to be kept at home, they had to have something to do."

It's true that many of the accoutrements of the modern Christmas have Victorian origins - indeed Christmas cards only became common in the 20th century. But families gathering to eat well (or as well as they could) together, such presents for the children as could be afforded - the heart of the secular Christmas - has been with us for much longer. "It was Christmas Eve, with its loads of holly and mistletoe ..." wrote Hardy in Tess of the D'Urvbervilles. His short story 'The Grave By The Hand-Post' is about a son returning to see his father for Christmas. And hasn't Ms Bunting read 'A Christmas Carol' ?

"But the crucial point about the Victorian Christmas, which always gets overlooked, is that it was only the middle classes who had one ..."- see above. There's a good reason why it always gets overlooked - because it isn't true.

"The Victorian rebranding was a response to industrialisation: the family was no longer the wealth-producing unit; people were swapping work at home for factories and offices; and urbanisation was disrupting the old domestic structures. Social relations needed strengthening, so the home was relaunched with rituals such as regular family meals and the Sunday lunch. Home was idealised as a sanctuary from competitive market capitalism - a place where vulnerability, innocence, and sentiment could be safely expressed. At the same time, childhood was idealised as a life-stage free of responsibility, a time of imagination, magic and enchantment. All of this came neatly together in the rituals the Victorians developed for Christmas. "

Ah yes. Victorian culture as 'rebranding', as some small group of people kicking ideas around, followed by the Victorian equivalents of posters, advertisements, handouts in schools and doctors surgeries, interviews on the Today programme. Such a metaphor betrays a complete lack of understanding, of empathy, with Victorian culture. Or she could just be pig-ignorant.

The home was 'relaunched', was it, with regular family meals ? Just where the hell do you imagine families ate in Georgian times - McDonalds ?

And the last liberal myth, continually regurgitated in true bulimic style, that "childhood was idealised as a life-stage free of responsibility, a time of imagination, magic and enchantment". I'm sorry, your forebears must have lived in a parallel universe to mine. Is this the Victorian age of the Little Match Girl ? Of Tom and Mr Grimes ? Of Shaftesbury and Barnardo ? Of a hundred weepy parlour ballads about orphans, disasters and death ? Of "Father's a Drunkard and Mother Is Dead" ?

But there's one thing we have in common with the Victorians. Our old people are still dying of cold.

Happy Christmas. And check out those old people over the road.

And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed.

(And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.)

And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.

And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, (because he was of the house and lineage of David,) to be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.

And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.

And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.