What a turnabout from last year! In the Christmas week of 2010 we were in the deep freeze, with snow and ice which had bedeviled us since late November and would not yield till January. But replacing the rigours of the weather that year have been worries and gloom concerning the economy and global instability. What has given the whole business an extra edge of frustration is that we had started to believe the worst was over.
But the Autumn Statement put us right on that. To add to the three we’ve already had, we have six years more of belt tightening – a period as long as the Second World War – before we can expect to see the ‘sunny uplands’. Seldom have we looked at a future so bleak and protracted.
And compounding it all is the worry that, despite all our best endeavours, the whole Europe house, and with it very possibly the world economy, will come crashing down about our ears. We can, however, take some comfort from the fact that we have battened down the hatches in good time and so can hope to weather the storm better than most.
Yet hard times encourage new, or should I say resurrected, values to take hold again. What passes today as hardship would be regarded as luxury living by those who lived through the late ’40s and early ’50s. So perhaps we should not feel too sorry for ourselves. Earlier generations knew much worse. Today we have an overarching, cradle-to-the-grave Welfare State which has, in my opinion, got out of hand and is now arguably very much part of the problem. No one needs to go to bed hungry, have no roof over their head or worry about medical bills.
But at least we have upon us that special time of year which is sure to bring some cheer! As I write this the weather is supremely benign – with primroses coming out – and Christmas only a few days away.
I personally have been amazed at how people have been determined to cock a snoot at the recession by putting out their Christmas lights, with certain regulars still trying to outdo the Vegas Strip. Some will have done so because, although they are suffering financially, their pride will not allow them to advertise the fact to their neighbours. But most will have done it because they love a good display, perhaps accompanied by a harmless desire for a bit of showing off.
All in their own way, including those of us who have put a modest wreath on our door or a little display of lights on our shrubs or windows, we are sending out a message of good cheer. And sad, indeed, it is to walk past a string of houses where not one has made any concession to this very special time.
We would all like to be better than we are: less selfish, more caring and forgiving. Christmas appeals to our better angels and for a few precious days we declare an armistice and genuinely feel a greater warmth toward our fellow man than we do in the rat-race that passes for normal living. It is a spirit wholly to be commended and encouraged.
The fact that it is a Christian festival is almost beside the point; whether you are from another faith, Agnostic or an Atheist, I defy you not to be swept up a little in the euphoria of the celebrations to come. Even most of the criminal classes desist, I suspect, from many of their activities.
What is important in this great coming together of people and families is that we do not forget that there are a great many people out there who, for whatever reason, are alone. The very nature of the goodwill directed everywhere except to them serves only to reinforce their sense of loneliness.
We cannot know what 2012 will bring; no forthcoming year in living memory has had so many questions marks hanging over it.
The ‘Arab Spring’ which promised so much may yet turn into a nightmare: Syria is already that. Iran’s pursuit of the bomb can only be galvanised by the attention paid by the world to the tuppenny-halfpenny basket-case of a state of twenty-two million which is North Korea. The Iranians will say to themselves: ‘Look what respect you get if you’ve got the bomb!’ But Israel is unlikely to stand idly by while the final touches are put to a bomb which could enable the barmy Ahmajinedad to carry out his threat to ‘wipe it off the map’. And if they do strike first, then the Iranians will close down the Straits of Hormuz through which 25pc of the world’s oil passes.
Nuclear-armed N. Korea is now in the hands of an inexperienced boy ruler who only last year ordered the unprovoked sinking of a S. Korean warship and the equally unprovoked shelling of S. Korean installations, all with substantial loss of life.
And as if all this is not enough, the West faces economic meltdown if the euro crisis achieves critical mass.
But hey, look to! Humankind will always bounce back: we’re hardwired to do that. It has even been suggested this year that our very intelligence came about entirely due to climate change which forced us to seek out solutions to survive. So who knows, maybe a little climate change will stimulate our little grey cells some more. But meantime, let’s all party and remind ourselves that there is much that is decent and uplifting in our aspirations.
Finally, to my readers: my heartfelt thanks for allowing me the privilege of sharing my thoughts with you here and in The Herald.