x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Arrival of festivities is cause for cheer

The run-up to Christmas shopping has begun. But there are better reasons to be excited about the holiday season.

Attention shoppers! Christmas has arrived! No, not actually Christmas which is December 25th, but the bit before Christmas that tells you it’s Christmas, even though it isn’t Christmas. Confused? All you need to know is it’s the festive season (soon) and it’s time to get ready. I’m only reminding you that it’s Christmas in five weeks, in case you want to start planning what food to buy for the big day. Or what presents to buy. Or what holiday cards to buy.

Don’t worry if you’re not Christian, not a theist, not even in the country, the opportunity to buy for Christmas is open to everyone in the modern 21st century. The tsunami of encouragement to shop, shop, shop for the holidays is highly inclusive, never discriminating on race, colour or creed.

But back on the subject of getting organised for Christmas, to be honest, you may have left it too late. My favourite Christmas advert this year aired in the UK in October and told me Christmas is “just around the corner”. In fact, those adverts were glacial in their speed compared to the world famous Selfridges store that launched its Christmas department in August, a mere 141 days before the big day. You can buy 1,000 kinds of bauble and a 6ft polar bear for £1,600 (Dh9,470) (in case you want one). I bet at this very moment you are wishing you could celebrate Christmas for five months of the year, aren’t you?

The advertising that precedes Christmas is now an event in itself. John Lewis, another British department store, has created a space for itself in Christmas culture with its “must watch” seasonal advert. This year was a soppy cartoon affair about a hare waiting for its bear friend to join the Christmas day celebrations with all the other cuddly animated animals.

The release of the John Lewis commercial is now an occasion itself. After it was aired during The X-Factor programme two weeks ago, newspaper columns were filled with deep analysis of its meaning and impact. The advert was declared the hands-down winner against its major rival advertising campaign from Marks and Spencer. In 2013, an advertising war is the prelude to a British Christmas.

Yet, despite the intense cultural momentum that snowballs around Christmas in Britain, I don’t celebrate the occasion. It’s a religious thing for me, as a Muslim. But it’s hard not to feel immersed in the overwhelming emotion at this time of year.

The weather has turned cold this week, and you can see your breath freeze in the damp air. The nights are drawing in earlier and sunset is as early as four in the afternoon. Amid the golden leaves fluttering in the wind, and the frost on the grass, there is a certain romance to cuddling up at home in the warmth, crunching on the path, or simply enjoying a moment of collective joy at the office that the end of year celebration allows us to share with those around us.

The communal nature of Christmas gives everyone permission to be nicer to each other and to take a minute to connect. The same is true of other religious celebrations. Their spiritual meaning was always intended to create an impact on community, and despite accusations that religious festivals are being increasingly commercialised, the powerful community effect still remains.

People take time to be together and enjoy together in the days coming up to Christmas. Therein lies the joy of this time of year. Even for those of us who don’t mark the religious celebration, the community spirit is something we can all take part in, shopping or no shopping.

Shelina Zahra Janmohamed is the author of Love in a Headscarf and blogs at www.spirit21.co.uk