'Tis the season to go mad on Christmas

Patricia Feehily


Patricia Feehily

'Tis the season to go mad on Christmas

IS it too late now to send a Christmas card to America or to put a small herd of reindeer on the roof with an army of elves hammering away assiduously in a brilliant LED lit workshop on the lawn?

I’m desperate, you see, to capture the Christmas spirit and display my artistic side, which to be honest, has never really impressed anyone up to this – except maybe when, at the age of 12, I won first prize at Nenagh Agricultural Show for designing a Christmas card.

I hadn’t hand, act or part in either the conception or execution of the design. The whole project was the work of my younger - and very artistic - brother to whom I pledged my post office savings book and the two forlorn saving stamps it contained, if he drew and painted a card for me to enter in the show.

I justified the fraud on the grounds of fair play, seeing that he had got all the talents and there were only the two of us in it. But it came back to haunt me recently when I was introduced to a gathering as, according to the local newspaper archives, ‘a bit of an artist’. Cringe!

Okay, I’ve a Christmas tree in the front room, decked with antique fairy lights I found in the attic, and I’ve hung a wreath on the front door, which so far anyway, has defied the force of gravity. I have also put up the crib because I still believe fervently in the essential message of the Nativity. But the spirit of Christmas eludes me and it’s not simply because we have Christmas every day now. It’s because I’m feeling hopelessly out of synch with the incredible luminosity of the neighbourhood this year. I need to emerge from the gloom and make a brilliant statement, because everyone is vying with everyone else to be heard.

The thing is, however, I’m not really a big fan of all this festive incandescence in the first place. I’m not particularly worried about the huge waste of energy, having been assured that LED lights are very friendly, environmentally. Anyway, Electric Ireland is encouraging the neon fanfare, so no fear we’ll run out of power in the middle of cooking the turkey then. What I’m fretting about is light pollution and the effect of this on the eco- system, although I’m not sure if those diode emitting bulbs have any adverse effect whatsoever on our environment. The trouble is that the scientists aren’t sure either. And why is NASA now studying the effects from outer space of an over-lit planet? That really freaks me out. Are we drawing too much attention to ourselves, I wonder?

I’m also fretting about the effects of all this seasonal sparkle on nocturnal life. Like the rabbit caught in the headlights, what must it be like for those species that only come out at night? I think I was one of them myself at one stage in my life and if I remember correctly, the light used to hurt my eyes dreadfully when I emerged into the daylight. Anyway, how is the groundhog ever going to recognise Groundhog Day with all the artificial light assailing his underground existence at this time of the year?

Now, I don’t want to sound like a Christmas Grinch. Everyone needs a bit of sparkle in their lives, especially in the depths of winter, and it ill behoves any of us to adopt a snobby attitude to crazy, brash, Christmas lighting on the grounds of good taste or refinement. After all, it is the season to be jolly, and many people I know light up their houses and gardens with the most spectacular displays in order to attract as many spectators as possible to raise funds for various charities. Who could argue with that, even if one was afraid of leaving too bright a footprint or attracting the attention of hostile aliens in space?

My problem, however, is that I come from a time when the pitch dark had as much to do with the magic of Christmas as any bright light, a time when the only lights to be seen in the countryside on Christmas night came from flickering candles in windows across the valley and the ‘stars in the morning east’ that sang to the music of that famous accordion. It was pure magic.

For me, that magic has vanished, melted away in the glare of multitudinous icy LED lights in the lawn and gaudy streaks of artificial glister across the roof tops. Even the stars have been washed out by the seasonal glare. I’m thinking of Christmas past, but I’m dazzled by Christmas present and the ingenuity of its creators. The thing is it doesn’t fill me with wonder and I’m not in any way as awe-stricken by it as I once was by the simple candle that pierced the darkness and gloom of mid-winter and shone a message of hope and warmth through my own long ago Christmas childhood.

Wishing all my readers a bright and very happy Christmas.