It’s that time of year again. The faint drone of Jingle Bells slowly emanates from the supermarket speaker system. Ghastly multicolor lights blink incessantly on every other balcony. Plastic coniferous trees propped up in storefronts are festooned with plastic decorations of all shapes, sizes and levels of aesthetic garishness. Papier mache caves featuring improbably blond baby Jesus’ and donkeys and farmyard animals galore. It’s almost Christmas folks!
Soon the advertising banners will go up: “Stolichnaya wishes you a Merry Christmas”. It’s sure to be merry if they’re involved in any fashion. Then will come the incessant and pain-inducing replays of “Last Christmas” by Wham on every radio station. It’ll assault your senses so relentlessly that you’ll actually be happy to hear “Christmas Coco Jumbo” by Mr. President. And if you happen to have the good sense to switch off the radio during the month of December, roaming Range Rovers with booming speakers strapped to their roof will drive through your neighborhood assaulting your ears with the worst of Christmas cheese.
Television stations, terrestrial and otherwise, will begin to play Home Alone, where a pre-rehab Macaulay Culkin defeats amateur crooks with plenty of cheer whilst rockin’ around the Christmas tree. Back on the streets, the headrests on VW Golfs from the 1980s will adorn Santa hats on the driver and passenger seats. The more festive amongst them will even ensure the hats have flashing bulbs instead of a white furry ball at the end. The excessively festive will show up at work one day with a Christmas hat, and people like me will want to smack them.
Roundabouts will be decorated with fake reindeer, grazing on bottles of Almaza and cigarette butts. Mechanical Santas with improbable facial expressions (made in China) will scare the bejesus out of children. “Real” Santas in shopping malls, their fake bellies and beards making 20 bucks an hour, will listen patiently as spoilt children read out their reasonable Christmas wish lists. Hmm, a PS3, a Learjet and a Porsche Cayenne like mummy’s. Giant “trees” made of sheets of green felt plastered onto a metallic frame will tower above the traffic in some squares of the city. Families will park their cars awkwardly, stumble out onto the damp streets and take happy snapshots with the twinkling lights. Which is nice, I guess.
On the plus side it’s refreshing to see that the paraphernalia associated with Christmas is present amongst all religious communities. I’m not remotely religious, and find it charming that everyone can agree on something. Kitsch Christmas decorations are a must! And if I stop being a grumpy old bastard for a second, the decorations, the music, the gifts and so on do bring joy to lots of kids.
But for me Christmas is going to mean answering questions about what I’m up to these days to a bunch of friends I haven’t seen in years and who all converge on Beirut for a week. We should all stop asking this question I think, since if we’re not up to speed, we probably aren’t a very important part of that person’s life. Christmas also means more traffic jams. Nice rain-soaked traffic jams. And saturated cellphone networks that can’t deal with the confluence of mortal souls upon the city.
But maybe, just maybe, I’m angry at Christmas because I haven’t felt anything at this time of year for well over a decade. I think I’m jealous of people who still muster a childlike wonder when faced with twinkling lights and Rudolph’s red nose. There is hope though. Someone has just asked me to be Santa at their Xmas party. After assuaging initial concerns that it might be a hint at some sort of protruding belly, I was told that my selection was due to my occasionally bellowing laugh. I was immediately reminded of a friend who used to say I laughed like Santa Claus when we were in high school, and I’m suddenly in a festive mood. Deck the halls with boughs of holly, fralalalala lala la laaaaa.