November distemper – An Irishman’s Diary about the premature outbreak of Christmas
Many famous verifiers breathed their last in the eleventh month, including Kavanagh and Wilde and Milton
‘Call me a grinch, if you like, but I suffer a just-as-visceral reaction to the grotesquely-premature lights that are already decorating some Dublin shops.’ Photograph: Getty Images
I stopped into a cafe in Arnott’s during the week, planning to buy a coffee and something to eat. But I hadn’t got further than the doorway before I found myself wincing, involuntarily. It took a moment to isolate the source of the pain. Then I realised the cafe’s PA was playing a song with the phrase “sleigh bells” in the chorus.
This was on November 2nd. So instead of spending a fiver (or if Arnott’s market research is asking, €15) on the premises, I turned and fled. The money was spent later, and elsewhere, in a cafe that was carol-free.
Call me a grinch, if you like, but I suffer a just-as-visceral reaction to the grotesquely-premature lights that are already decorating some Dublin shops. These are harder to avoid, and yet I try.
In his song Raglan Road, Patrick Kavanagh wrote of how “in Grafton Street, in November, [he] tripped lightly along the ledge . . .” Well if I trip in Grafton Street, this November, it’ll be because I was staring sideways while passing Brown Thomas, to avoid seeing the Christmas display that, since late October, has been covering the front of the store.
Yes, October. There was a time when I welcomed the American-style marketing of Halloween here because at least it imposed some kind of moratorium on the other thing. Alas, it seems not even that can be relied on now.
But getting back to the “seasonal” soundtracks that will soon be general in cafes and supermarkets, I surely cannot be alone in finding these intolerable so far in advance of their time?
In fact, on the contrary, most people I know share my objections. And yet the shops and stores presumably wouldn’t do it if they didn’t think it encouraged some saps – I mean, customers – to spend earlier and more than they otherwise would?
Either way I live in hope that, one of these years, scientists will be able to prove that two months’ exposure to the same few Christmas songs on a loop is measurably detrimental to public health.
Class actionsThen, shop and cafe workers, at least, will be able to bring class actions. After that, if it doesn’t stop completely, the premature playing of Paul McCartney’s Simply Having A Wonderful Christmas Time and other atrocities would be confined to designated areas, like smoking.
In the meantime, there must be a gap in the market for businesses that certify themselves free of such material until December and advertise accordingly. They’d be guaranteed my custom for a start.
Part of the challenge for those of us who would delay the gratification of Christmas as long as possible is that November is such a gloomy month: devoid of major highlight, or any kind of light really.
Its negative image is exacerbated by the two-letter word accidentally contained in its opening syllable, which once inspired this very pessimistic verse from the English poet Thomas Hood:
“No sun - no moon!/No morn - no noon/No dawn – no dusk – no proper time of day./No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease,/No comfortable feel in any member /No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees,/No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds! – November!”
Hood was a humorist (believe it or not), although he sounds depressed there. Indeed, whereas early autumn brings out the best in poets, November seems to be very hard on them, historically.
Many famous versifiers breathed their last in the eleventh month, including Kavanagh and Wilde and Milton (who in the words of one anthology, “died between November 8th and 10th 1674”, which sounds unnecessarily protracted). It should be noted, however, that Hood was writing in London, circa 1844. And the depredations of the season there were added to the notorious pea-soup fogs and smogs of the era.
Yuletide tsunamiWhereas 170 years of climate change later, our Novembers would be barely recognisable to him. The latest one has been almost balmy thus far. But the month is still a bit of a vacuum that demands to be filled. So maybe we need to make more of an effort to embrace this month in all its gloom.
Perhaps somebody could organise a November Appreciation Society, and offer night classes. Failing that, the only hope of building a wall against the Yuletide tsunami may be for us to import yet another American phenomenon: Thanksgiving. By encouraging the crass commercialisation of that, we might postpone the crass commercialisation of Christmas until the end of November, at least.