Americhristmas: The 10 Most Surprising Things About American Holiday Traditions

Christmas is one of the holidays with the most commonality between Britain and the US. We both encapsulate the Northern European traditions of trees and snow and reindeer and so on. But there are some surprising differences. Some of these that particularly flummoxed or amazed me when I first encountered them are as follows:

  1. What, no Boxing Day? American companies are rather Scroogelike in the amount of holidays, public or otherwise, that they give their employees. Whereas in England, the 26th is a public holiday as well, I was most distressed to learn that here in America I was expected back at work bright and early, fully functional and ready to be a productive little cog in the machine. Seriously, does anyone really expect to get much done on the day after the biggest holiday of the year? I get more time off for Thanksgiving than I do for Christ’s birth most years, and last time Christmas fell on a Saturday I got the Saturday off (it’s usually a workday for me) and that was it. Conservatives moan that “companies can’t afford it”, but given the bonuses they pay their executives, I’m more convinced it’s “won’t” than “can’t”. Very surprising, and unpleasantly so.

  1. Food Differences. The familiar mince pies, Christmas pudding and Christmas cake don’t really exist here, but make room for cookies. Hundreds of the things, sugared, iced and cut into seasonal shapes. The potatoes served with the turkey are likely to be mashed, not roasted (you people have no idea what you’re missing), the turkey might get deep-fried, and the green vegetable accompaniment is beans, not Brussels sprouts. Chocolate coins in the Christmas stocking isn’t the done thing, but candy canes hung on the Christmas tree might be.

  1. Candied Sweet Potatoes. Top of my personal list of “what on earth were you thinking?” foods, this one is so weird it needs its own category. Sweet potato was a nonexistent vegetable in my growing up, and I really wasn’t sure about something that had the consistency of stringy regular potato but a sweet flavour. But to mash it up and bake it in a pan with marshmallow on top, and then insist that it belongs on the same plate as turkey? No, you people are strange. I like you, but this food crosses too many boundaries for me. I’d never even suspected the existence of a food (not a condiment like apple sauce with pork or cranberry sauce with turkey, but a food) that was sweet but a “dinner” food and not a dessert. That’s a line I don’t personally cross. Like your weird jello salads, this I’ll pass on.

  2. HanukChristKwanzFestivus. When I first arrived in the States, I hadn’t yet tumbled to what inveterate particularists Americans are. When I was growing up, Christmas was Christmas. I’d vaguely heard of Hanukkah by the time I moved to the States as an almost thirty-year-old, but other than that it was a Jewish festival around Christmas time, I didn’t know anything about it. It didn’t, and still doesn’t, have a very high profile in the country of my birth. Jews, and even Muslims, are as likely to wish you a happy Christmas as anyone else. But what on earth’s a Kwanzaa? A Festivus? Come on; you’re making these up. Kwanzaa, I’m informed, is essentially Christmas for black people who think Christmas is too white and European; Festivus is Christmas for militant atheists. This is America. Everyone’s got to have their own holiday catering specifically to them. Now, I understand that if you’re Hindu you probably want to celebrate Diwali rather than Christmas, and if you’re a Jew you probably want to celebrate Hanukkah. But these have an actual history and don’t seem to be fabricated out of whole cloth simply because we like having a holiday and there are things we object to about the majority one. I guess the early Christians’ adoption of the Saturnalia for Christmas was something like this originally, but given the basic nonexistence of Kwanzaa in the UK and the very definite existence of a thriving black and African community, I wonder whether stuff like Kwanzaa is really as “African” as it’s claimed.

  3. Musical Differences. I talked about this last post, but it’s worth mentioning again. The carols have different tunes in many instances (Away In A Manger, O Little Town of Bethlehem, Angels From the Realms of Glory, It Came Upon A Midnight Clear). The secular music is totally different. And there are some different carols, too. I was particularly surprised by Angels We Have Heard On High, which has our tune for Angels from the Realms of Glory (mostly) but different words, and the complete absence of Once In Royal David’s City.

  4. There’s No Such Thing As Tacky Decorations. Whether it’s the tree or the house, American notions of proper decorating are like themselves: bold, loud, overpowering and individual. Nothing is so cheesy or tacky that some American won’t put it on his front lawn, whether the 12ft tall inflatable Nativity scene, the dinosaur Santa giving presents to all the little T-rexes, the zombie Santa, the upside-down Santa that hangs by a toe from the gutter, or whatever else. Coming from a part of Britain that was relentlessly middle class and the last thing anyone wanted to be accused of was of being tacky, it was rather surprising. Tree ornaments are similar. No-one would make patriotic or state (if we had them) tree ornaments in Britain, but you see them all the time here, blazoned with the Stars and Stripes, or the Confederate flag if you’re of a mind, or football teams, TV shows, whatever. Express yourself. It’s the American thing to do, and if anyone doesn’t like it, it’s the American thing that they can kiss your… Ahem.

  5. So few Christmas cards. Ok, Britain goes a little overboard with Christmas cards. You get them from everyone, and you’re supposed to give them to everyone. They make special Christmas card display hangers that you can pin up to 100+ cards to apiece, and people regularly need several per room in their house. Think US valentine cards, raised to the power of ten and at Christmas time. And when I say everyone gives them to everyone, I mean it. I got Christmas cards at school from kids with names like Anwar Islam and Rakesh Patel. But we didn’t usually send or give cards to immediate family. By contrast, my wife’s family did cards for one another, and a few closer friends and church people, and that’s it. As my family know, I’m particularly disorganised about cards, and at $2 a card to mail them internationally, it gets expensive, but I always feel particularly guilty that I’m not doing it right, no matter what we do.

  6. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: the Movie. Yes, I mean the 1964 vintage one. We all know the song, even in the wilds of Britain, but not only had I never seen the film (still haven’t, in fact), I had never even suspected its existence. This “classic” American Christmas film apparently has a distinctly North American audience; it hasn’t been shown on British TV that I know about or remember any time in my life of fortysomething years. This, Frosty the Snowman (which I’ve never seen either), and a couple of others I don’t recall off the top of my head are basically unknown. We have our own Christmas TV classics (The Snowman), but typically what I recall being shown on TV on Christmas day were popular mainstream films like The Empire Strikes Back. Of the classic American holiday films, I’ve seen A Charlie Brown Christmas and maybe a couple of others. “Classic” for me is sometimes code for “not watchable on merit; needs added nostalgia”.

  7. Eggnog. To go from a country in which it’s a marginal, slightly strange alcoholic cocktail involving real eggs (at least, that’s what I thought “egg nog” was when I got here) to a country in which it’s a vanillaish creamy soft drink demanded by the masses and used as a flavouring in seasonal chocolates and stuff is fairly eyeblinking. I’d never drunk eggnog of either incarnation before I moved to the States. To hear what I always thought was an alcoholic drink craved loudly by my resolutely teetotal father-in-law was something of a shock. Eggnog is big business here, consumed by the pint and lapped up with relish. I don’t personally care for it; you can have my share. But how in demand it is and how much a Christmas flavour it’s considered to be here was certainly surprising.

  8. We Wish You A Sober Christmas. America has its share of holiday drinking, but it seems to be of things that would be drunk anyway, like regular beer or wine. There seems little of the holiday sherry or the alcohol-soaked desserts or the mulled wine that you have to prepare or buy specially. Hot apple cider in the US means warmed spiced apple juice, not the alcoholic drink that is the only meaning of “cider” in the UK. American Christmas is designed for kids, so there’s no alcohol on show, there’s masses of sugar, and everything is very G-rated (U or Uc, in British film classification parlance). Britain’s a bit more European; alcohol is a part of life and we don’t feel any particular need to hide it from our children. The sooner they treat it as something to drink sensibly, but just something to drink, the better off they’ll be. Including at Christmas, with our sherry and our mulled wine and our brandy-soaked Christmas puddings that you set alight at the table, and our brandy butter. We’re really not a nation of alcoholics, but alcohol is definitely more embedded into the Christmas festivities than it is in the US.

Anyway, that’s my list. I’ve probably forgotten a few, but those are the main ones that caught me out. Enjoy your Christmas preparations; I’m back to mine.

I Saw Mommy Wedgie Santa Claus

It’s a source of some amazement to me how different the typical US and British Christmas music playlists are.

I’ve talked on Facebook about how so many of the traditional church carols have different tunes in their transatlantic incarnations, but it doesn’t stop there. The secular Christmas music is even more dissimilar.

In Britain, there’s a long-standing tradition of popular bands producing new annoying earworm songs specifically for Christmas, and the national pop music No. 1 on Christmas Day is usually something seasonal and absurd.

There’s a fairly extensive repertoire of these things, stretching from the awful 1970s I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day through the Pogues‘ song croaked out by their lead “singer” who sounds like the drunken sot he is, right up to the present day. Stop the Cavalry. Mistletoe and Wine. Last Christmas (which the radio stations around here in Texas seem to have unaccountably latched onto this year and which needs to have all copies burned). These are mostly what the radio stations and shops play in the UK.

American radio stations mostly don’t.

Secular Christmas music sounds like it mostly stopped in about 1954 and to be focused on the Frank Sinatra/Perry Como/Gene Autry era. White Christmas (which is probably the best-known of these in the UK because it occasionally gets played there). Have a Holly Jolly Christmas. Let it Snow. Winter Wonderland.

Even the songs that are technically more recent are often more contemporary artists doing covers of these antiques.

Few of these songs get much airtime in the UK, so it makes Christmas music sound dramatically different.

Not worse; as far as I’m concerned most of the UK’s Christmas playlist could cheerfully be consigned to the Abyss. But not any better, either. Let it Snow is, if possible, even sillier in Texas than it is around London. Dreaming of a white Christmas is fairly futile when there’s an even-money chance of T-shirt weather on Christmas Day. Or it may be 15 degrees Fahrenheit and blowing a howling gale out of the flat part of the States, with nary a mountain between here and the North Pole to slow it down. You never can tell with Texas.

Initially the American Christmas playlist was a nice change of pace. A bit weirdly stuck in the past (it seems the irony of ironies that I, as a Brit, am saying this about America), but nice. Inoffensive. Twee.

My wife says Americans don’t have this word, but it’s a useful one. It’s a bit like cute with a heavy dose of old-fashioned and a side order of prim as well as the saccharin. Offensively inoffensive.

And it describes American Christmas music so perfectly.

This is the music of the age that American conservatives idolise, before the devil Rock’n’Roll took over the country. Some of it’s goodish. Most of it’s just bland. Some of it, though, takes some decidedly bizarre twists.

Like the line in It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year about “There’ll be scary ghost stories”. I’m sorry, but what in seven types of crap does that have to do with Christmas, religious or secular? Halloween, maybe, but Christmas? What kind of weird person would consider that enough of a Christmassy thing to reference in a seasonal song?

Or Here Comes Santa Claus, with its strange blurring of the lines between the secular and the religious. “Let’s give thanks to the Lord above ’cause Santa Claus comes tonight”. This is weirdness. Those of us who do give thanks to the Lord above for Christmas aren’t doing it because Santa is coming, but because Jesus already came. And those who are focused exclusively on the secular icon of Christmas are probably not going to be giving thanks to the Lord above. It’s an utterly odd song.

Oh, occasionally something more recent shows up. Pentatonix and the Trans-Siberian Orchestra are usually played somewhere, and welcome. TSO’s version of Carol of the Bells is one of the few worthwhile versions of this irritatingly repetitive carol, though Christian radio needs to get over its obsession with Mary Did You Know?  And I suppose I have to mention The Carpenters, who were 1970s but share the same animating tweeness as all the other American Christmas songs.

I shouldn’t really object too loudly. I could be back listening to the endless I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day and Last Christmas loop track the UK seems to have. But it does get rather wearing to have the same six or seven songs played again and again and again.

This year, I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus seems to be one of the endless loop-track selections in these parts. And when you find yourself loudly singing along “I saw Mommy wedgie Santa Claus!”, it may be time for the radio station to find a new song.

I can’t change the station. All the others are doing it, too. Can we have a little more diversity in what gets played, please?

How Silently, How Silently

Every year, as the season of Advent progresses, I find myself focused on a different aspect of the Christmas story.

Some years it’s been Mary and the amazing faith it took to embrace her part in the Lord’s plan.

Some years it’s been Joseph and what it takes for a man to be father to the Son of God.

A couple of years ago it was the giving of gifts and the Lord’s generosity.

Last year it was connecting the First Coming to the Second.

This year, I think the focus might be on the hiddenness of it all. How silently, how silently the wondrous gift is given.

Anyone who’s been around the process of giving birth ought to be aware that this is a bit of a conceit, rather like “little Lord Jesus, no crying He makes”. Jesus was, in fact, a real human being, a Baby for all intents and purposes just like every other baby, with real tears and real wails of distress. And He didn’t come into the world without pain, either.

But that’s not really the point. The point is that the birth of the King-Messiah wasn’t in an imperial palace and heralded with trumpets.

The world, as it is wont to do, was focused on the lives and times of the rich and great. Augustus Caesar was on the throne in Rome; the Roman puppet Herod the Great ruled in the province of Judea. His building projects expanding Temple Mount and building the Herodion palace were fairly recently completed, monuments to himself and to human ideas of greatness.

And in a small village in the very shadow of Herod’s fortress palace, a couple of poor teenagers displaced by the great Caesar’s tax census laid their newborn in a feeding trough to get him off the floor of the barn.

The Son of God, the promised Deliverer and King, possessing more intrinsic greatness than every ruler or potentate that history has ever called “the Great”, born into the equivalent of a refugee camp for displaced persons in a conquered province, to a couple of teenagers from the very bottom of the economic ladder.

In the shadow of “Make America Great Again”, it’s… challenging.

Jesus’ homeland had no military power. It was occupied territory, under the sandaled heel of the empire that invented crucifixion as a means of execution and which came up with the terrifyingly simple Pax Romana: “Do not fight, or we will kill you”. The Romans were good at killing people in job lots.

And in this conquered territory, Jesus was born in a small village. Today we tend to exalt country life as a lifestyle to strive for, but back then it was the cities that were the places everyone wanted to live; they were the safe places where you could live out your life without so much fear of bandits or thieves. In terms of how we think about different types of places, Jesus was born in an urban ghetto.

Not only that, but He was born not to rich, powerful people but to the poorest of the poor. The “pair of doves or two pigeons” sacrifice for a firstborn that Joseph and Mary made to fulfill God’s Law was the very least sacrifice for the very lowest income bracket. Today, Mary and Joseph might not be earning enough to even pay income tax; back then, they were being shunted around like pawns on a chessboard by those who demanded their taxes.

Herod’s greatest self-named monument to his own glory, the palace at Herodion, was visible from Bethlehem, but what a difference! Swimming pools and gardens in the rocky Judean wilderness, all constructed on a mountain effectively built by Herod’s engineers, Jesus’ human family would probably have looked too scruffy even to live in the servants’ quarters.

Born in a stable, because there was no room in the inn. And you’d only be staying in the inn to begin with if you had no family in the area to stay with. Both of them being “from the house and line of David”, where were their relatives? It seems Joseph’s decision to obey the Lord and marry Mary anyway may have caused his relatives to disown them.

And so comes the King of the Universe. So very silently that even the Magi almost missed it. Not in a palace, not with trumpets. His birth proclaimed to shepherds – a profession so unskilled that it was frequently left to dozy children, of so little status that even farmers looked down on them. These are the fast-food restaurant workers and tollbooth attendants of the ancient world.

It’s appropriate. The Kingdom of the Messiah is fundamentally inverted compared to what humans value. “Woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort.  Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry.  Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn…” in Luke’s version of the Beatitudes. Paupers, widows, tax-men, revolutionary terrorists, women and children exalted, the devout, God-fearing good folk of the Pharisee movement castigated and insulted. By the time of the early church, towns were screaming in panic that “the people who have turned the whole world upside-down have now come here!”

A Kingdom for the weak, the disadvantaged, the poor, the marginalised. Losers, misfits, the ugly and the unsuccessful, those who couldn’t make a go of it in the Roman world’s system. Led by a homeless man who had a political revolutionary among His inner circle and whose followers would institute a communistic economy among themselves, based on giving and sharing rather than buying and selling. The Kingdom of God is at hand.

Tremble, o world.

It Continues To Look A Lot Like Texas

Christmas is one of the most visually bizarre times of year in Texas, even in years like this one where it’s been cooler and rainier than usual for a lot of the year.

It puts me somewhat in mind of what people in the southern hemisphere must experience in those places where December and January are summer months and Christmas Day is sometimes the hottest day of the year.

Texas is in the northern hemisphere, but its subtropical continental climate means that it’s British summertime temperature as often as it’s freezing, and there are years in which Christmas Day gets comfortable T-shirt weather.

It makes all of the polar-type Christmas decorations look rather odd.

People’s lawns turn that drab brown of Texan grass in its dormant winter period (I’m still used to grass being green all the time), the air conditioners are humming, the postman is in shorts, and dotted about over the landscape are these forlorn-looking inflatable snowmen, Santas, reindeer and penguins.

The stores are all playing Jingle Bells and Let It Snow and Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer, and climate is not cooperating in the least. An open sleigh, even one with twelve horses rather than one, is not going to do much dashing through the drab brown grass. The weather outside is frightful only in the sense that 80°F in mid-December is absurdly overheated. And the reindeer died of heatstroke.

It really brings home how much of our Christmas trappings are Northern in origin. Visually at least, the Western Christmas has its roots in Scandinavia and Germany, places where sleighs were once a normal way of getting around in the winter, where the likelihood was that there would be snow for Christmas, and maybe for months either side, places where reindeer might actually be a normal livestock animal, places where it’s dark for almost 3/4 of the 24-hour period and lights are vital.

It makes me wonder what Mediterranean Christmas traditions look like. What do they do in Spain, for example, or Greece – places where the only white at Christmas is the plaster walls of the houses?

St. Nicholas may have become Santa Claus and Father Christmas in the north, with his reindeer and sleigh, but in Southern Europe, where he’s still St. Nick? How would he get around in a place in which the idea of a sleigh is absurd?

Climatically, Texas has far more in common with Southern Europe or North Africa than it does with the fir trees and reindeer of Scandinavia, so it would make a sort of sense for decorating traditions to borrow more from those lands than from the frozen north.

Yet visually speaking, the frozen north has become Christmassy in a way that doesn’t pay any attention to climate. The Texan landscape may be brown against a clear blue sky, but somehow snowflakes and reindeer and the dark green of Christmas trees seem right to us. It seems to us as though the climate should adhere to our ideas about Christmas rather than the other way around.

On the other hand, though, the Texan climate ought to bring home to us how unnatural all our ideas of snow and the bleak midwinter are to the real story.

The Bible says that the shepherds were living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flocks at night. In Israel, as I understand it, shepherds only live out in the fields during the summer months, which means our ideas of the Light of the World coming at the darkest time of the year may technically be wrong.

But this is when we celebrate the coming of the Messiah and the inception of God’s rescue plan for fallen human beings. A light shining in the darkness. The warmth of Divine love in the midst of the coldness of a Northern winter. Richness in the leanest time of the year; joy in the middle of bleakness.

It somehow seems a more appropriate metaphor for the coming into the world of God Incarnate than in the pleasant green of a lazy English summer, or in harvest gold, or in spring blossoms. Scripture is silent on when exactly the Birth took place. In a sense, it doesn’t matter. God perhaps knew that one day even places like Texas, Argentina and Papua New Guinea would be celebrating His Advent into the world, so He didn’t tell us in order to help us not make a fetish of the trappings.

So I will use the very forlornness of the inflatable snowman decorations to remind myself that it’s not about snow and ice and the coming of the man in red, but about grace and mercy and the coming of the Word in flesh.

A Season of Anticipation

I actually like Advent. Mostly. America thankfully hasn’t discovered a lot of the dire British Christmas pop songs, and even more crucially doesn’t start playing them in August. Oh, it has its own crop of irritating songs, like the terrible earworm Feliz Navidad and the dubious It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year (what on earth is that line about “scary ghost stories” doing in a Christmas song??), but nothing to match the horror of I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day or the dreadful Jive Bunny Christmas single. Not quite.

I like putting up a Christmas tree and decorating it. (Artificial tree for preference; the one time growing up that we had a real tree it shed needles all over the carpet, was mostly dead before Christmas Eve and generally seemed like a complete waste of time and money). I like singing Christmas carols. I’ve even reconciled with some of the weirdly Mediaeval ones like The Holly and the Ivy. I like my annual venture through the Christmas Story, focusing on a new aspect each year. I even like a lot of the traditions and trappings and stuff that surround it.

In addition, I work on a construction site and not in a store or somewhere, so I don’t have to deal directly with the brigades of stressed and manic shoppers very much. Thank you, God!

The day after Thanksgiving traditionally begins the US Christmas shopping rush. “Black Friday” is the worst possible day of the year to go anywhere even close to a store, and once again, this year I’ve managed to avoid doing so with alacrity. I actually mostly enjoy shopping for Christmas gifts, but that doesn’t mean I want to have to resort to nuclear weapons to pick up a present or two.

Advent for me is a time of anticipation and looking forward. I’m remembering the True Story of Christmas and wondering which aspect of it will be brought into focus this year. I’m looking at toys that I might get for my kids, which is always a fun thing as it gives me a valid excuse to be poring over the LEGO sets in a store. I’m looking forward to some really good Christmas food, trying to remember to get cards in the post on time (always debatable – just ask my longsuffering family), looking forward.

Ecclesiastically speaking, the season of Advent has traditionally been used as a season to remember the preparations for the First Advent and to anticipate and prepare for the Second.

Given what I said a while back about one of the main points of eschatology being to de-absolutise our own concerns (in the face of the End of the World, what does it matter who wins the election?), it seems an especially profitable thing to focus on in the run-up to what is for many the most stressful and panic-inducing time of the year.

What better way to throw the shopping mayhem and traffic nightmares and culinary disasters into sharp relief than to remind ourselves that Jesus is coming back soon?

Depending on your eschatological perspective, that may mean either a great persecution and trouble is coming – I mean real persecution, not people saying “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” – and we will have to exhibit the “patient endurance” that the Scripture says is called for, or else we will be caught up to meet the Lord in the air before all the great trouble starts. Either way, it kind of makes all our Christmas stress look… small. Irrelevant. Not worth the worry and effort we expend on it.

Yes, it’s nice to be able to get our kids and relatives what’s on their wishlists. But a wishlist is a wish list, not a demand list. If we’re paying some kind of a ransom for the delivery of an argument- and disappointment-free holiday, we may be doing it wrong. Yes, it’s nice to get all the details right and to have our Christmas be the fairytale we dream about. Even snow on the ground in London or Texas.

But it doesn’t ultimately matter. Advent looks forward to a Second Coming as well as back to the First, and being aware of this might serve as a buffer against some of the stress of the holiday.

I hope I can remember this the next time I’m stuck in traffic on the way home from work because some crazed shopper ran off the road.

The Time Between

The time between Christmas and New Year has always seemed weird to me, ever since I became an adult. As a child, you don’t notice the weirdness so much, because school Christmas holidays typically span the entire time from before Christmas Eve to after New Year’s Day. It’s all holiday time.

Conditioned by these years of school, it comes as a rude shock to the system that your employer wants you back at work between the two holidays, especially here in America where Boxing Day (26th December) is not a thing. When Christmas Day falls toward the beginning of the week, you might well only get the day itself off and be expected to put in the rest of the week working; Christmas Eve, Boxing Day, New Year’s Eve, everything.

In the Mediæval period, our modern Christmas Day was only the first day of a 12-day holiday period. The most important day, certainly, but only one day – the day when most of the religious part of the Christmas celebration was done and got out of the way so that the community could relax and celebrate without needing to be on their best behaviour.

Spiritually, too, a time to reflect on the meaning of the Christmas event without being distracted by the preparations. With Christmas beginning on Christmas Day and lasting for a full twelve days culminating on the 5th January, there’s plenty of time to fully digest the spiritual implications of the birth of Christ, and in addition, there are a whole cluster of Christian feast days scattered through the period: St Stephen the first martyr on 26th December, St John the Evangelist on 27th December, Holy Innocents Day on 28th, commemorating Herod’s wicked slaughter of the baby boys in Bethlehem after he realised the Magi had tricked him, the Feast of the Circumcision on 1st January, right up to the eve of Epiphany on 5th January.

In the modern secular age, all of the little feasts have been more or less forgotten, unless you happen to go to a very traditional church. The holidays have been reduced to two: Christmas, which is the holiday for children with Santa and flying reindeer and presents, and New Year, which is the holiday for grown-ups with parties and excessive drinking.

In addition, all of the attention is on the run-up to the holiday. After Christmas Day you won’t hear I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day or Feliz Navidad on the radio again for another year, thank goodness. We’ve done that now. Time to move on to the next thing. All of the stores are already taking down the red and green Christmas decorations and replacing them with pink and red hearts for Valentine’s Day, telling us that they’ve already milked us for all they can get out of us over Christmas and it’s time for us to be spending our money on the next big retail holiday.

And in our rush to move on, we might just miss something.

Undistracted by preparations, we have a chance to focus on meaning. We squander it at our peril.

Fun for all the Family

My wife got the Meccano (“Erector set” in American-speak) she deciced she wanted for Christmas. I got Lego. So did my kids, and since it’s all going to be pooled together I’ll get to play with that too 🙂

In some households, this would be how you spell “mid-life crisis”.

Around here, it’s just this branch of the Horswoods being themselves.

Some time in the last year or so I decided to stop being embarrassed about being a grown man that still wants to play with Lego. It is, after all, no greater a potential expenditure of money than football tickets, it lasts longer than a cricket test series, and is no sillier than painting your body in your team’s colours. And grown adults do all of these without shame or embarrassment. In the case of sports fandom, it’s culturally the done thing. You get respect for it.

If an adult admits to building things with Lego, though, we think they’re childish. Having a midlife crisis. Trying to avoid the reality that they’re getting old.

I guess I might be. But if so, I’m not going to be bothered by it.

I’m reminded of something CS Lewis wrote once:

“As a teenager I read fairy tales in secret and would have been embarrassed if anyone had discovered it. Now, as an adult, I put childish things behind me, including the fear of looking childish, and read fairy tales openly”.

So I’m going to take it as evidence of maturity, not childishness, that I can openly have a hobby of Lego building.

And given some of the creations that adult Lego builders make, is it really “just” a children’s toy?

I’ve often wondered why the Lego sets have an upper age limit on their “suitable for” age suggestion box. I suppose that it helps the non-builder relative of an avid Lego fan kid to avoid getting something overly simple. But even the simplest little car is still a good source of bricks that you can build into anything. Fun for all the family. In this case, with the probable exception of my wife, quite literally.

Though I still think that if I got Heather some Technic Lego she’d have a lot of fun. She has a mind of wheels and gears, like a sort of unfallen Saruman, and she wants to make something that really works. Hence the erector set.