Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Celebrating Susiemas/ Redefining Yule

OK, I am afraid it’s looking a bit like we’re not going to be able to escape it. Very soon it will be Christmas, and Christmas does bad things to good people. I myself blame the John Lewis advert, which I think is a subtle plot to make anyone who does not have a middle class family who all like each other feel bad about themselves, and which this year is even worse. The Christmas Pressure madness does different things to us all: for some of us it makes us crochet epic things until we get a crick in our neck which makes us look like Quasimodo: for my mother, it makes her embark on a Quest to Rediscover The Spiritual Side of Christmas.
Light in darkness, quod est demonstrandum
This is a challenge for my mother as she is, how shall I say this, utterly Godless: however, in past years the quest has taken her to carol services in various churches, the nadir of which was when she forced other members of my family to attend a carol service in a chapel which was smaller than their front room, and where everyone had to hug each other afterwards. There was also the incident at Midnight Mass which we do not discuss. Luckily, this year I am here with my one-size-fits-all, spiritual-yet-secular guide to the True Meaning of Christmas which will enable you not only to not have that nagging feeling as you stand in M&S bitchslapping a woman in a cardigan over the last vol-au-vents that you ought to be doing something a bit more uplifting, but which will also enable you to celebrate Christmas in whatever way you choose. Want to hole up all on your own with a bottle of vodka and the cat? That would work. Want to spend every night from now until 2nd Jan in a feast of Rabelaisian excess culminating in you climbing Reality Checkpoint without your pants and hooting? Perfect. Here we go.

Right {cracks fingers}. The thing that happens at Christmas/ Yule/ Winterval, whatever cultural or religious associations you want to lay on it, is, that it is the darkest part of the winter, and the time when the sun is reborn at the solstice, i.e. the days get no shorter and indeed start to get a bit longer (OK, that bit is a bit pagan, but bear with me). Now we all have central heating (although a lot of us now have fuel poverty as well so, you know) this might have lost its emotional charge, but, really, we are one scant generation away from when central heating was not standard and we spent all winter being really cold.
I don't believe there's anything more Christmassy than a reindeer in earmuffs
In my Northern childhood I remember (violins) frost forming patterns on the inside of the window when I got up in the morning. I remember having to stand over the tiny portable heater to get dressed. I remember having a ceramic hot water bottle (I can’t believe we couldn’t afford a rubber one, but, there you go). It was the kind of cold we only feel these days when the boiler breaks or we can’t afford the heating. Just think what a cold, hard, painful, long grind the winter would have been in days gone by, nowadays we worry about the central heating drying out our sinuses or making the cat a bit static, before, we would have been eyeing up Granny hacking up a lung and wondering if she would get through until March, and, if not, who else had the skill to reroof the hovel. So in those circumstances, the light coming back – the spark of life of the new year, the first day the sun went down later rather than earlier – would have been a cause for marvellous celebration. In fact, the festivities might have propelled Granny through it a bit, rather than everyone sitting being miserable and cold.

So what you are celebrating at Susiemas (oh, come on. Let me try to start a cult if I want to) is, the return of the light. In fact it is more than a celebration, it is an act of faith. It is a shot in the dark. It is an assertion of light and joy at the most miserable time. It is saying, although this is the darkest time of the year, I believe that light will return. One day it will be summer. And I am calling back the light in a metaphorical way with tinsel, candles, parties, nice food, or, by sitting on my own with a bottle of vodka, whatever way you want. Now, isn’t that better than all the depressing cultural overlay? You can celebrate however you want! Sod the turkey! Sod the Eastenders Christmas Special! Sod getting drunk on sherry and fighting off questions from Great-Aunty Mildred about why you aren't married yet/ your children aren't like the John Lewis one/ how you failed to become an actuary! Sod giving people chocolates and then getting them back next year with one of the chocolates eaten! (Yes – this did happen to my mother). I myself celebrate Yule, so, we call the sun back by burning a candle (that is the spiritual bit), and I am also going to get up at dawn to greet the new sun (I believe dawn to be at something like 7:45 am, though, so don’t be too impressed. And I’m going to greet it by sitting on our bench drinking a cup of coffee, I’m not going dancing about skyclad). Let’s have new traditions! What do you do?


Nana Go-Go said...

I was hoping to have the turkey-dinner-for-one set up on my laptray with the mote for the telly firmly clamped to my side but my children have other ideas, despite my protestations that I really DON'T mind being on my own this year!
Great post - very,very funny and I too can relate to those days BCH (before central heating).

Nana Go-Go said...


omlair said...

What a lovely blog post and very lovely thoughts.

I'm in the wrong hemisphere to be able to celebrate the days getting longer (I would prefer them to be shorter) but I will consider this around July next year :)

My tradition is watching the Doctor who christmas special :) This will be the second year in a row! LOL

Anonymous said...

I'm totally onboad for Susiemas. I believe firmly in helping my friends start cults :) But I'm going for the cat-and-vodka option, if that's okay.

We don't celebrate the days getting longer so much in my neck of the woods, because it means that another miserably hot summer is on the way. But I do appreciate the thought behind it, so I will burn a candle for those who need the days to get longer.

mooncalf said...

Central heating and double glazing. The role of double glazing is often sadly neglected. I now realise.

Anyway, YES to everything. I believe the secret to Christmas (as with so much in life) is to lower your expectations a really really long way. If you're just expecting a pretty decent long weekend then you're most of the way there.

Festive happiness for me is a bacon sandwich, some new toy or amusement to play with and plenty of cake. In the warm. And not inflicting on other people ludicrous media-inflated expectations of what they should be like or should like or should want. And then more cake.

kristieinbc said...

I had no idea there was such a thing as a ceramic hot water bottle. And I laughed over your mom getting back the box of chocolates she had given the year before minus one chocolate. I thought stuff like that only happened on tv. :-)

Rachel said...

Oh yes, I shall be celebrating Susiemas this year! Marking the return of the sun with no other cultural baggage :-)

If we get a clear day (or promise of clear morning, more to the point) around the full moon (10th) I'm planning to get up early and go for a walk by moonlight, then have a cup of tea on top of a hill and see the sun rise from there.

I only knew about ceramic hot water bottles from a Rupert the Bear story, and even he had a new rubber one ;-) Right now we're struggling to get our house above 13 deg. C.

juicyknits said...

You had me check the dict for "Susiemas" till it hit me what that meant. I'm on!

Anonymous said...

I can't tell you how much I love this post. This is why Christmas really is for EVERYONE no matter what religion or no religion. Call it what you will, we need it we really do - for all the reasons you say.

I don't DO anything, but I think things and I feel things. Ritual doesn't come naturally to me and seems actually beside the point when I do it so I don't - one of the reasons I found church so dull. Some people create ritual of their own and share them but it has meaning, sometimes wonderful and touching. I can't do that so I don't.

I remember that as you say, soon the hard winter will be over (and yes I remember the cold as a major childhood memory and feature. I am right back there too these days, no central heating here; what with that fuel poverty you mention). I think about all the business of plants growing all year and how they are having a rest and they will be back. I realise very happily that no sooner are we dealing with nights drawing in earlier than ever that that is about to change and they will be starting to brighten up again in just a few weeks. It's subtle I grant you.

Christmas is hunkering down after all the stressiness and relaxing and doing nothing at all and feeling magic in the air. I shall spread the word of Susiemas this year.

MariaDenmark said...

Oh, I'm in! Happy Susiamas, which I'll spend flying to get closer to the equator and then I'll enjoy a weeks worth of sun and warmth before returning to a world in which dawn is at 8.45 for another few weeks - until we can tell it's getting a little bit lighter everyday.
Actually I might be spending the time when other people celebrate Christmas (semi)naked and clutching a (posh) drink including vodka...

crafty cat corner said...

You forgot the white fingers whilst peeling spuds. lol
We have experienced all the frosty inside windows and stone hot water bottles and really it wasn't too bad, after all we didn't know any different did we?
At least we spoke to each other and played games (real ones, played with dice )and as we didn't have things like butter and strawberry jam for the rest of the year, tiny things like this made Christmas extra special.
I expect you are wondering if I am old, well ahemmm, yes I am, but still functioning at the moment.
Lovely post.