I love how excited everyone becomes at Christmas, it has to be one of my favourite times of the year. Amidst the blustering winds, unpredictable downpour, and imminent travel disruption, all that festive spirit really does help make everyone feel a little bit better. But the truth is, I don't actually celebrate Christmas. I'm a second generation British Asian who was born and brought up in this country but I have never spent a single Christmas celebrating it. It's always been slightly bewildering to some of my friends, but in all honesty I haven't really felt like I've missed out on anything.
For me, festivities at Christmas are lovely to observe from afar, but that's where I draw the line. As someone who was born and brought up in Britain I have never had any problem embracing the cultures of this country when I was growing up, while at the same time holding on to my own values and customs. For me the two have never been mutually exclusive. I find it difficult to digest when people, especially new immigrants, tell me I need to celebrate Christmas to 'adjust.' In my house we never had a Christmas tree, we never exchanged presents, and we didn't feel bad about it. It wasn't our festival. We simply got together as friends and family and enjoyed our day, watching good TV and eating lots of food. We felt very grateful that we had the day off from work. I've always held a strong sense of patriotism and truly believe that whether or not you celebrate Christmas does not determine how loyal you are to this country. I shouldn't have to give up what I believe in to be British, and I'm certainly not going to give into the marketing ploy played out by many retailers at this time of year.
But if like me you don't celebrate Christmas you might notice the hype a lot more this year. I've never really found it off-putting, far from it, I love the warmth around me. It's as though the world that I live in changes into a dramatic film set for a few days, the lights, the music, all that glitter and glamour - it's a magical time. But what has put me off this year is how much it's all being shoved down my throat. Perhaps I'm just noticing it more having become a parent, but I shouldn't be made to feel guilty about not sharing the festive spirit with my young children.
I don't know how parents who don't celebrate Christmas are battling this out. It's hard enough to inform your children that there's no such thing as Santa, let alone explain to them why we don't celebrate Christmas in the first place. I mean surely I'm not alone in this. What makes it even harder is when they're being bombarded with messages about Christmas from TV shows and school. It's not an easy task. I've heard all sorts from people I know, from 'it helps children adjust to the cultures of the country' to 'we need to fit in'. It's utter nonsense. Why can't I teach my children to be merry all the time? Why can't I put lights up in my house all year round and give them presents when I think they deserve a reward (and not when Santa says they've been good)? I just don't get it.
Aside from not wanting to be bullied into celebrating Christmas by anyone, I'm a firm believer that Christmas has become a time for retailers to increase sales from naive consumers. The advertising industry spends even more each year during Christmas, convincing us that spending our hard earned cash will make everything better. Walking around Westfield London this week I've seen almost all of the major retailers offering up to 50% off - the sales start early so that people can part with their cash as quickly as possible. The fact that stores are relying so heavily on Christmas sales speaks volumes. The department store Liberty for example expects 20% of it's annual sales from Christmas alone, while John Lewis has spent £7 million on it's hare and bear advert, expecting high returns. It's hard to fathom the amount retailers are spending on advertising, and we as consumers are spending considering how many man made and natural disasters we're currently living through. Between last Friday until Christmas Eve alone, consumers are expected to spend up to £12 billion. That's a lot of money on clothes and gifts that we wouldn't spend at any other time of the year.
So whether you're organising a feast for many with all the trimmings or simply relaxing in front of the box on your own, stay true to what you believe in. Most of all, don't let anyone else tell you otherwise. Happy Christmas to those of you who celebrate!