Wednesday, 12 December 2012
It's a strange time, the run-up to Christmas in our "Christian-heritage" country. When you are a child, it all makes sense. The tree, the decorations, the food, the blurring of doctrine and folk-tale, the hysterical, combustible mix of material greed, anxiety, nostalgia and religiose hypocrisy... That's simply what Christmas is. It happens all around you like the weather.
As you get older, naturally, you have the choice of dropping out or taking part: you make Christmas happen. Or not. An increasing number of people are opting out altogether, simply taking advantage of the time off work. There's a certain moral superiority to be had by not taking part, especially if you use the time to feed the homeless, rather than sunbathing in Tenerife, or counting all the money you've saved by not buying presents. Not so easy, of course, if you have small children.
The University does "do" Christmas, but it's all a bit half-hearted, and carefully neutral. Some lights in the campus trees, some decorations, reindeer antler headbands in the Student Union Shop, turkey and mince pies on the canteen menu. Pagan is apparently OK -- everyone does a midwinter "festival of lights and piggery"! -- but Baby Jesus is for enthusiasts only.
But the fact is, most of the students are long-gone by this time. The teaching staff get pretty scarce, too. Apart from those of us contractually-obliged to occupy our offices until the very end (hey, someone has to lock up and turn off the lights), the only ones left on campus are the overseas students from far, far away, who tend to have no great interest in Christmas.
As their numbers increase, year on year, it's getting more and more difficult to explain to them why all the vital (and warm!) facilities like the Library, the canteens and the Students Union are shut down for a solid week or more, rendering a university campus one of the loneliest places on earth.
I wonder if the Salvation Army turns up to feed and entertain them, while we're all gone?