Advent is the season of the coming, and for many of us what is coming is a massive spend fest culminating in a bout of binge eating and drinking and an almighty hang over and indigestion. The festive season also means a spike in the number of drunk driving offences and domestic dramas, when tolerance levels will be pushed to the limit and beyond, when we will drown in a sea of plastic and polystyrene packaging and unwanted gifts that will either flood the ebay-style sites in the new year or end up as landfill. As the build-up begins, it might be salutary to remind ourselves what this festival is all about—light’s victory over darkness.
We all complain about the lack of daylight. Some of us elevate it to a medical condition that needs treatment. Caribbean cruises are beneficial I’m told. The nights are long and cold and the days are short and cold, full of cloud, threatening snow when it’s not actually raining. We all feel the need for a burst of brilliance and for someone to tell us it isn’t always going to be like this—eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow… well, maybe just eat, drink and be merry.
The fear of the dark is year-round, not just in the winter. The countryside is littered with the houses of people who claim to want the peace and quiet but are terrified of the dark and light up house and grounds like concentration camps. The light pollution is appalling, disturbs the biorhythms of wild birds and animals so they can’t rest after a day of being hounded by men of one idea with guns. The ‘dark, sacred night’ is a thing of the past.
Some choose to create their winter burst of brilliance with the land of the midnight sun effects of artificial illuminations, streets festooned with blinking light, shop fronts bleeping and gushing all night, public buildings draped in the colours of the northern lights. The final push will remain either as a memory of expensive fun or as a blur of over-indulgence, family rows and sulks and an almighty mess to clear up.
For others, a birth will be their symbol of regeneration, hush and candlelight, carols and being pleasant to complete strangers. As a symbol it’s very new, a mere 2000 years old. The sun has been fulfilling its promise of regeneration for I don’t know how many billions of years. Either way, it’s all about chasing away the dark and creating a light that will tide us over until the spring.
You don’t have to subscribe to either trend, neither God nor Mammon. The great and very witty Clive James described religion as “an advertising agency for a product that does not exist.” Perhaps, one day, we will be able to get our burst of winter brilliance without either the advertising or religious stunts, and be content with that lifting of the spirits when the sun begins its ascent, promising spring and renewal—a promise that so far, has always been kept.