Wed | Jan 23, 2019

The ghost of Christmas past

Published:Monday | December 22, 2014 | 12:00 AM

For those who celebrate the symbolism of Christmas, it used to be almost magical. It seemed to take forever to come back around, and the season was filled with community and church activities, shopping, concerts, parties, carolling, cool temperatures and family time.

As far as the Biblical promise that the Lord would speed up time in the last days is concerned, although all things are possible with God, the acceleration of time may be a matter of perception. We have become so busy, so perpetually occupied, that time seems shorter simply because we are doing so many things.

Now, we talk on our phones while waiting, while walking, while driving, while eating and while doing something else that should require our total concentration. We take our work home with us with our smartphones and communicate with businesses, friends and relatives halfway across the globe as if they were mere metres from us.

Time moves fast

All these activities badly distort our perception of the passage of time and the significance of space (which is related to time). So, for everyone - the young and the old, the busy and the bored - time seems to fly by at warp speed. As soon as one Christmas is over, it seems as if another one is upon us. Not having to wait an 'eternity' for Christmas to come around lessens the impact that the season once had.

And now we have severe restrictions in some activities that meant so much to so many at Christmas time. I vividly remember the firecrackers - the 'clappers' and the 'thunderbolts'. Then there was the 'shiboom' - a little ball that exploded on impact with any hard surface. All are now illegal because the sound of explosions has taken on murderous significance, necessitating police intervention.

With the crime rate being what it is, carolling on the streets is almost totally extinct. Additionally, the divided neighbourhoods, acrimonious environment and endemic apathy have destroyed most community-based activities.

Our natural environment and weather have also changed noticeably over the past 40 or 50 years. Because of the albedo effect (too many concrete structures that reflect sunlight/heat), smoke and carbon dioxide pollution and the widespread cutting of cooling trees, Christmas time is not nearly as chilly as it once was. That, too, has served to make the season less special than it used to be.

Crime has made us imprison ourselves in our various homes and retreat from outdoor activities. The economic stresses have made most of us frugal and restrictive. There is still a lot of shopping, and the statisticians are always quoted as reporting that each year, people are spending more and more at Christmas time. The figures are trotted out by various administrations as if they represent positive markers for fiscal growth and disposable income.

Rising inflation

But no one has taken the time to remind us that inflation is the most likely cause for the increased spending. It takes a whole lot more to buy far less than we did only a few years ago.

Aside from weddings and funerals (I still know individuals who confuse the two), people of faith worship most at Easter and Christmas. So, the churches remain full at this time of year.

Now, the most obvious signs of the Christmas season are the plethora of advertisements, beckoning/entreating merchants, and the ever-growing numbers of inescapable and ubiquitous mendicants who stand amid the glitter, bright lights and shopping crowds as stark reminders of our harsh economic reality.

And so the Christmas that many used to know has died. All that we have left is its ghost to remind us of the unbridled fun, camaraderie and freedom that we once enjoyed.

I miss the days of unified communities and the simple pleasures that made us happy. I wonder if any of us will ever see them again.

n Garth A. Rattray is a medical doctor with a family practice. Email feedback to and