Coloured Christmas Lights Eclipsed By Child In The Manger

Posted at 18:09pm on 21st November 2008

How long before 25th December should Christmas decorations go up? Every year it seems that they’re earlier and earlier. Especially shopping centre Christmas decorations. But this year, instead of being a cause for complaint from me, their premature appearance last week, in London, was a bonus, when my other half and I had to make a business trip to the West End to meet with the American agents of the music publishers for whom we work.


Now I have to admit that when it came to shopping genes, my mother and eldest daughter hogged the lot. My youngest daughter and I have little or no interest in what appears to be everyone else’s favourite pastime. So when our Company Secretary suggested a trip round the shops to pass the time before the departure of our train home, my heart sank. ‘Well at least have a look at the lights,’ he urged us.


Apparently, the all-girl pop-group, Sugababes, had switched on the Oxford Street lights from the House of Fraser store, accompanied by a rendition of the X-factor charity single, Hero. As seems fashionable in recent years, coloured Christmas lights are passé; the street decorations were white and unremarkable. But the shop window dressings were so imaginative!

Standing outside Selfridges – where every window showed Father Christmas in ‘The More The Merrier’ mode – made me realise what a privileged childhood I’d had. Every year my mother would take me to Town (we lived in Greater London) to see the lights and to visit Santa’s Grotto at Selfridges.

This year, however, although entirely lacking in Christmas theme, Debenhams won the best dressed windows to my mind. What patience and ingenuity it must take to dress a shop window as they did, with string puppets worked mechanically by overhead pulleys. In the dining room themed window, there was a sumptuous display of dining furniture, laid with a dazzling array of lace, glassware, china and silver. Around the table sat small, white linen, stuffed foxes with pale reddish snouts and tail tips. Each had a knife and fork held perpendicularly in its paws, which they banged up and down to hasten the arrival of the turkey, precariously carried in by two further foxes. Another – obviously inebriated and still slurping wine – slumped against the leg of the table, whilst its companion staggered in with a tray of wine-filled glasses which looked certain to fall. Above the table, a marauding band of stuffed owls flew in, with a glint in their eye.


At first glance these displays may have nothing to do with the real essence of Christmas, but remembering my childhood experience made me rethink my conclusions. Because however lavish and costly the shop window displays compared to a humble stable, however fantastical and brilliant the lights compared to the star in the East, however magical and mystical the whole event seen by a child’s eyes – they are a very human attempt to convey a divine event. They may come nowhere near the most precious and costly gift of all time, Emmanuel, the Christ child in our midst. But at least the secularists can’t claim a complete victory in eradicating our desire for – and acknowledgement of - something, Someone, beyond ourselves.

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