Letter from Roger Tarbuck, December 2018 – January 2019

I wrote about how memory can play tricks on us in my last letter. I’m staying with memory here because Christmas is coming, and who can deny that this time of the year is set four-square on memories? From being tiny children we have been gaining layer after layer of memories, but the most robust ones are the oldest. Those older associations, those scents and sounds, those sights and sensations, join the very building blocks of our psyche, affecting us at the deepest level.

Two years ago, Classic FM started playing carols in November. Last year, they started in December. Perhaps people had complained that Christmas was getting too early. I used to joke after Boxing Day (tired joke): “Well, only ten months to go till Christmas!” But this is true for some, because many firms and organisations depend on Christmas for the greater part, if not the whole, of their income. Christmas card and toy makers are preparing years ahead. Personally, as I get older, I enjoy hearing carols on the radio more, even in November. There’s something about the build-up to the season: I have a CD of carols and I tried listening to it in April – it didn’t work. No magic. But in late autumn, carols start to move me in those deep foundations of my being, giving the sleeping memories a serious nudge. My favourite (of course?) is “Silent Night”, but a close second is “Away in a Manger”, because this was the first carol I learned when very small. It moves me greatly, reviving memories and feelings from long ago; they rush up to me now, as real as they ever were.

I was born an Anglican, went to a C of E primary school and in later years, like many other people, worked desperately hard on becoming an adult, without allowing my shadow to darken a church door, as they say. If anyone asked me from would say, “There’s nowt wrong with cherries, so why shouldn’t we pick them?” This is being eclectic, and eclecticism is what we’ve been “doing” with Christianity and other faiths and philosophies ever since our little ship of faith left harbour on its tempestuous maiden voyage half a millennium ago. It’s our way of life, of faith, of freedom, and it’s brought comfort, purpose, reason and – yes – salvation, in one way or another, to very many people over the centuries, and still does. So let’s cherry-pick and enjoy the carols – and the stories.

A year or two ago a local council tried to eliminate Christmas, as Oliver Cromwell did. Some people still defiantly say Happy Holiday instead of Merry Christmas. Well, good luck to them, they have the right to do so, but you can’t wipe out something as profound as Christmas. There are those who call Christmas “the Festival of Light”. I’ve done that – all well and good, but it’s impossible to put an end to the Christmassy part. I know that the light festivals predate Christianity, but they weren’t half so much fun: people went crazy for a period, but it didn’t last from would say, “There’s nowt wrong with cherries, so why shouldn’t we pick them?” This is being eclectic, and eclecticism is what we’ve been “doing” with Christianity and other faiths and philosophies ever since our little ship of faith left harbour on its tempestuous maiden voyage half a millennium ago. It’s our way of life, of faith, of freedom, and it’s brought comfort, purpose, reason and – yes – salvation, in one way or another, to very many people over the centuries, and still does. So let’s cherry-pick and enjoy the carols – and the stories.

A year or two ago a local council tried to eliminate Christmas, as Oliver Cromwell did. Some people still defiantly say Happy Holiday instead of Merry Christmas. Well, good luck to them, they have the right to do so, but you can’t wipe out something as profound as Christmas. There are those who call Christmas “the Festival of Light”. I’ve done that – all well and good, but it’s impossible to put an end to the Christmassy part. I know that the light festivals predate Christianity, but they weren’t half so much fun: people went crazy for a period, but it didn’t last so long in those days – and it didn’t begin in November! Then it was back to a seriously hard life, as someone with a splendid turn of phrase once said: “inventing that old wheel thing.” (Sorry, can’t remember who.)

Far distant dreams of the Spirit blend with the nearer ones of Christmas. Jung said, “Myths are the dreams of mankind.” From the depths, using images that we can understand, the stories float up to haunt us with messages of peace, comfort and joy. The deniers won’t ever wipe out Christmas: the people – and the Spirit – would never let them. So, God bless you all with a very Merry Christmas! And an enormously Happy New Year, too!