2 years ago
Every December, usually around the evening of the 24th, as I find myself buffeted along all the brightly lit corridors of the Trafford Centre, the recently built temple to the Saturday cash register, by numerous happy, laughing, greedy, materialistic shopping crowds, and as the frosty nights draw in and the pavement artists draw on, I often ponder the true meaning of the Christmas festival and despair of ever understanding its real significance.
I have in the past, searched everywhere for the answer to this perennial spiritual enigma. I once rather stupidly, (considering they were unwise enough to employ my daughter Charlotte), asked the lady in the information booth at Selfridge’s. She seemed to know the answer to every other question of life, the universe and everything that is, so I enquired of her what the real significance of the Christmas celebration was. She said in a rather disdainful, humdrum and monotone way, “Try ‘leather goods’ dear.” At the time, I was too young to understand what she meant and in actual fact, I still am. Not a good sign at all.
I then asked my mother the same question, but she misheard me and gave me the standard lecture that she had learned from the Family Doctor booklet on How Babies are Made. As a matter of fact, she also gave me the very same lecture when I asked her about VAT, and now that I have fully experienced both, I can honestly say that I do see the similarity. Anyway, unabated in my quest, I later asked my father and he said, “My dear girl,” (his sight was failing somewhat, or possibly his memory, maybe even both or was it my ever increasing man-boobs?) “Christmas is nothing but an evil commercial invention of the capitalist consortiums to increase profits, and it would be a whole lot better if it came in February when business is slack.”
So, armed with this fascinating lack of understanding, last year I again set out to learn the real essence of Christmas for myself. As I ventured forth on this voyage of discovery, delving deep into the innermost crinkles of my psyche, I tried to be totally honest. After all, it was Christmas. I knew that deep down inside, I loved Christmas.
But was it, I asked myself, merely because of the gaudy shops jammed with glossy novelties and bright cheap baubles? Was it merely the commercial spirit and the profit motive that so lifted my heart? Was it merely the exchange of monies and the tinkling of cash registers that made me look forward to Christmas from Boxing Day onwards?
And being as shallow as I am, I answered: Yes, yes it was. Christmas is the time when the Spirit of Giving is everywhere in evidence, and if there is one thing I enjoy more than all others, it is to allow other people to fully enjoy themselves by giving me lots of presents. I mean, who am I to refuse them this privilege of giving? Even if I know that in so doing I deny myself the pleasure of giving on my own account, but no true joy ever comes without sacrifice does it?
But then I carried my self-exploration a step further. Granted that Christmas signifies the widespread joy of others in giving me gifts, what is the most enjoyable aspect of the Christmas shops? What then is the single most feature, so unique to the Christmas shops, that brings such rare happiness to the aching heart?
My quest took me to my most favourite of all shops, the book shop. And while musing upon a pile of new and glossy Christmas releases in a brightly lit, tinselly clad modern book shop, I stumbled across a rather strange book. It told a simple tale of a child born in an animal’s manger in a stable, because there was no room at the inn for the mother and putative father. The book came in a plain but stout and shiny cardboard slip case, which also held another book telling of the creation of the world and the first man and woman in it thereof. They were marked the Old & New Testaments.
And then all at once, the answer came to me in a flash. I suddenly realised that I was holding in my hands the two books and the slip case which held the very key to the real essence of Christmas. The real essence of Christmas, it came to me in a burst of revelation (no pun intended), is: THE BOXED SET.
All over the world, to worshippers of every creed, colour, language and credit card, Christmas means that special time of the year when their favourite volumes are miraculously transmogrified and wrapped, bound in identical spines and glittering with uniform lettering, in a skin of glistening cellophane inside an all singing all dancing festive and shiny case. Can there be anything else more satisfying to the human spirit I ask you?
Now that we know the full mystery of Christmas and the boxed set, let us now ask ourselves what it is about the boxed set that exerts such miraculous and seasonal a pull? Well first of all, and above all else, a boxed set of books is something truly substantial. If someone gives you a boxed set, it tells you something, a great deal in fact about the donor straight away. It tells you that they were prepared to spend three (or even four) times as much money on you as they would have normally done if they had bought you only a single book.
Secondly, the boxed set appeals to two basic human emotions simultaneously – the first being a desire to read, learn and inwardly digest, and secondly, the desire to collect things in sets. And in the event of a clash, the latter usually always wins over the former. Such is the level of our fickle mindset.
Of course the book industry hasn’t been alone in appreciating the above mentioned deeper meaning of Christmas for many years. Thus not only are special boxed sets of the testaments widely available, but for many years now, there have been special Christmas sets of other books, CDs, DVDs, cosmetics, cleaning fluids and even biscuits too. And to give these sets a special appeal and purpose, these boxed sets are imbibed with familiar feel good titles such as: “Family Selection”, “Greatest Hits” and “Complete Works.” Prove me wrong if you can, but I doubt if you will find a more meaningful explanation for all this Christmas fuss.
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