It has been 70 years since a life-size Father Christmas doll was burned in Dijon in protest against the “paganization” of Christmas. A year later, Claude Lévi-Strauss published an article about this event, interpreting it as a paradoxical variation of end-of-the-year celebrations. The Father Christmas figure was opposed by the clergy but supported by the commercial sector class, a sign that the alleged “paganization” here went hand in hand with the marketing of Christmas as a product for consumption, rather than the celebration of divine grace being born in the world.
For us, here and now, in the midst of yet another lockdown, a critical view on the commercial nature of Christmas seems to be the last thing we worry about. Give us fun! If only we could set something on fire! We want to vent our frustration. We want to go outside and be merry. But there are no celebrations, no bonfires, no fireworks. Instead, we are forced to go inside, to our living room. Or even go inward, where many feel they have become a strange guest, not knowing what to do with themselves.
According to Lévi-Strauss, the end-of-the-year rituals are ways to buy off the spirits of the dead. After all, the boundary between the reality of the living and the dead fades at the end of the year – think of All Saints / All Souls (Halloween). By giving gifts, the dead will eventually retreat for another year. Lévi-Strauss observes that nowadays we no longer fear the spirits of the dead, but rather everything that death stands for: loss, deprivation, and decay. But also in this context, the end-of-year rituals do their job.
Until now perhaps. The lingering pandemic makes us feel like we did something wrong or perhaps forgot to do something right. Sickness, death, and depression stare us in the face. Will death come for its own gifts, now that we can give no more?
Do you find these words a bit gloomy? Perhaps you can then see them as a belated Christmas story… or perhaps a timely warning. Turn inward, even if you don’t know what to do with yourself. Turn inward until spring comes. Don’t be a stranger to yourself, but listen to what moves you. Learn to see what you have to offer. And if the dead do come to bother you, don’t forget to give them a present.
The Standplaats Wereld team wishes you a happy and peaceful 2022!