Back in Blighty for Christmas, and immediately I am swamped in the Christmas spirit. I was surprised at how little I felt it during the last few days in Lausanne, despite the decorations in town and the snow, carpeting the landscape and artfully dusting the rooftops and trees. Perhaps it was the fact that, much as I love it over there, it’s not home home.
Or maybe there’s another reason. In London, Christmas feels very different. There is a frenetic quality to it; you feel it above all on the high street, and the closer to Christmas, the more frenzied it gets. I haven’t been on Oxford street yet but I don’t need to, I know exactly what it will be like: a perfect example of rampant capitalism, where acquisition of material goods is the overarching law; a nightmare of crowds, each person bent on one thing: consuming as much as possible.
This chaos is acted out before a festive backdrop of twinkling lights, festoons of glitter, and accompanied by the usual Christmas muzak. Supermarkets are suddenly snowed under with stacks of mince pies, Christmas puddings, miles of gift wrap and customers battling it out on Christmas eve for a decent turkey. The nation is divided into two camps: those who adore the holiday season and are filled with Christmas cheer and eggnog, and mutinous Scrooges who detest the holiday and all associated rituals. This is Christmas as I know it.
So there’s no wonder I wasn’t really feeling it in Lausanne. I was surprised, as I thought Switzerland, with all its snow and Christmas markets, would have me full to bursting with seasonal merriment. Instead, it felt pleasant, but calm. I didn’t feel hectic or harassed on the high street or at the markets. Things are too expensive in Switzerland to go on a Noël-fuelled splurge. As always, there is an emphasis on quality, not quantity. The general attitude of the Swiss is a cheerful anticipation for the season, with an absence of fuss or scorn. It might be Christmas, but people are chilled as ever.
In England it’s not Christmas if there’s no turkey on the table, along with potatoes, sprouts and mince pies. In Switzerland, there is no Christmas dinner dogma to abide by; lunch on the day is simply a big feast, with lots of yummy food and nothing specific required. Which works for me; most of the people I know (myself included) don’t even like turkey that much. The general consensus is that it’s sec (dry). It irritates me mildly that my mother feels obliged to slave over a turkey (when everyone would rather a chicken anyway), and serve Christmas pudding (which nobody actually likes) just because it’s Christmas.
At the end of the day though, however we celebrate it, Christmas (in case we’ve all forgotten) is about the birth of baby Jesus. It’s astounding how seldom this (now minor for most people) religious aspect crosses my mind, and how greatly Christmas features in the lives (not to mention bank accounts) of those not religious at all. If not, it’s about being with family. For many of us, it’s a rest and respite from the madness and demands of normal student/work life, and a chance to kick back and let mum do all the cooking and laundry. Whatever you’re doing, whether you take the attitude of Christmas lover or Scrooge, let’s take a moment to reflect on the past year and all the things we’re thankful for. If you really can’t think of anything, let’s be grateful that we, at least, have butter. Unlike those poor souls in Norway.
So, what’s Christmas like chez vous?