As the sun sets earlier and earlier and the rain gets heavier and heavier, one way many choose to cope with the gloomiest of our Scottish seasons is by looking forward to Christmas. There is a recurring debate every year on just how soon is too soon to be looking that far forward. For some, Halloween decorations are swiftly replaced with Christmas lights the second it hits 1st November; for others, this is unthinkably early. Maybe whether you are a die-hard Christmas lover or a secret Scrooge is built into your DNA. Whatever the cause, the passion people feel on both sides of the debate is undeniable. Christmas has gradually expanded beyond the confines of December and practically taken over November; however, the question of whether this is acceptable is emotional and personal.
There is certainly a case to be made for the postponement of Christmas joy, cynical though it may sound. As Christmas has grown over the decades, it has become more focused on festive drinks and the latest gifts than family and charity. Celebrating Christmas earlier can be seen as an excuse for businesses to capitalise on the season with adverts and products being forced upon people at every turn. Even the most ardent of Christmas enthusiasts can admit that seeing festive chocolates in the aisle in October is slightly unsettling. This is partly because the holiday itself seems to have been infected with the same consumerism as so many other aspects of our lives, meaning that the focus of Christmas shifts from that of a charitable and loving time of year to another stressful thing to add onto our calendars and to-do lists. It is understandable that starting to think about Christmas earlier means confronting the reality that, once that day is over, the new year is just around the corner. Thinking ahead means thinking about what you have left to do and, at university, can mean reflecting on a semester that feels as if it started two weeks ago.
Some people also have justified concerns of people wishing their days away by focusing so much on the event of Christmas months away when they could enjoy the present season. November itself offers many opportunities for joy: the beauty of the leaves which are yet to fall and the crisp autumn days when the sun is still shining. The month also includes other religious and cultural holidays that are celebrated by millions of people around the world. This year, November included the Hindu holiday of Diwali but some were too busy putting up their Christmas decorations to even realise that there could be another event going on before the one they were preparing for over a month in advance. Hanukkah is also due to take place from 28th November to 6th December. There are many things for people to celebrate weeks earlier that the holiday no-one can stop talking about. Although Christmas has largely taken on the character of a cultural holiday rather than a religious day with many non-Christians celebrating, it should not be ignored that the prioritisation of this one day every year does obscure other cultural and religious holidays. For those who do not celebrate Christmas, the earlier it creeps in, the more tiresome it is likely to get.
At university, people also must face end of semester exams that can tarnish any early Christmas celebrations. Many feel that festive cheer should be postponed to when they can enjoy it properly, rather than trying to squeeze in a festive drink between revision sessions. Although the season could offer the opportunity to take a break and stroll around a Christmas market, for some this is impossible with stressful deadlines and important exams. Thus, looking around at the pretty lights or watching Nativity in your pyjamas is just not a productive use of time and can make you long for the days when the most stressful thing about Christmas was the nativity play. Instead of enjoying the festive season early, people are often made to postpone their joy for a more convenient time when they are not too busy.
However, it is hard not to sound Scrooge-like when people pour scorn on those who simply enjoy this time of year. Finding any ounce of joy in a dark and gloomy season should be commended, not lambasted, and many choose to start celebrating in subtle ways that do not force it on others. Yes, businesses may make you pass some chocolate Santas in the confectionary aisle and the festive food selections at coffee shops cannot be ignored, but ultimately it is your choice to buy these products. Avoiding the consumerism of Christmas is difficult but may welcome the introduction of Christmas foods and flavours. Why should Terry’s Chocolate Oranges be confined to one month of the year?
There are much worse things than having the option to get Christmassy before December and, though there are still many in denial, Christmas has become a cultural season rather than purely a religious holiday. A plethora of films and songs are available to watch and listen to, so many that you could not possibly fit them all into the week of Christmas, and, though it may seem odd listening to “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” two months early, the fact of the matter is that it does. Days get colder, nights get longer and it begins to feel like that season is approaching. There seems to be some shame in saying that your favourite genre of film is “Christmas,” but for some that is because many of those films are comfort classics, reliable and dependable films that spread messages of joy and cheer. For all the complaints about the consumerism associated with Christmas, many of these films re-ignite people’s love for the season as a time for giving and charity.
Messages of hope and forgiveness, along with encouragement to reach out to your loved ones, are especially important this year in the wake of a globally difficult time when many people have not been able to see each other. Considering many spent last Christmas in some form of lockdown, this year provides the opportunity for a return to a proper Christmas day and season, so it is understandable that people may want to extend this period beyond the confines of December. Excuses to visit friends and family abound at Christmas with more to do, more people to see, more places to go. The Christmas markets have started and the previously admonished consumer goods are a treat for many, providing alternatives to your average coffee shop order. Contradictory though it may seem, Christmas provides the opportunity both to give more and consume more, adding some new, much-needed excitement to everyday life.
Extending the season also doesn’t always mean spending money. Trees, lights, and festive music brighten up your day, particularly on those dark walks home at five in the afternoon. St Andrews has labelled their lights “winter lights” in the hopes that people will not question that some of them are just permanent fixtures in the town. The latest, more overtly festive illuminations appeared the second November began, but it seems unnecessary to criticise when they make the streets more appealing. This is, arguably, St Andrews’ best season. The Gothic architecture and small side streets were made for evening autumnal glows and dark winter nights, making it hard not to feel festive earlier than many deem acceptable. Living in a town that thrives with a festive aesthetic makes it much more difficult to try and defend pushing back the holiday.
The answer to the question of how early we can begin celebrating Christmas is essentially whenever you want (although it may be wise to keep it quiet around your less festive friends). Feeling festive in November is neither unheard of nor wrong necessarily, as Christmas has expanded to become a season rather than just a day. However, it is understandable that for some thinking about Christmas too early can be stressful and concerning as you watch the weeks slip away and your to-do list get longer. But it seems that those committed to Christmas being “just a day” are going to find it more difficult than ever to avoid early festivities, especially this year. Shops and town streets seem to be on the side of the Christmas early birds, so those attempting to avoid Christmas until the day itself will struggle to shut out all the festivities around them.
Illustration: Bethany Morton