1st December 2021

On Christmas morning 1869 Cosima, wife of the composer Richard Wagner, awoke to beautiful, flowing strains of music never heard before. Richard had composed the piece in thankfulness for the recent birth of their son Siegfried. Aptly named Siegfried Idyll, it was played by a small ensemble he’d secretly gathered on the stairs. What a lovely gift, and it set me thinking. This time of year we start to grumble about the commercialisation of Christmas. It’s a bit late for that, because so much of our life is already commercialised to excess, with just about everything we do, or want, measured by its cash-value. We’re bombarded with advertising about things not really intended for our pleasure but promoted to swell the coffers of the producers and the banking systems they depend on. It’s a kind of slavery. Christmas is merely its annual peak.

OK, I can’t readily see any way out of this slavery.But suppose, just for the odd gift or two, instead of spending money we spent something of ourselves in their making, or writing (story? poem?), or painting, or knitting (or growing)? Even, just count as a present a visit we make? We can’t compose like Wagner, but we could find it liberating just to give something that would be really valued by someone, but hasn’t come out of the cut-throat cash-nexus society we’re embedded in. What we give might not have any obvious cash-value, but that’s already the case with some of the most treasured things. A new-born child for example, including one whose parents only have a borrowed manger to lay him in.

Keith Clements