Advent art is up in shop windows in Brockley; Hackney high street is ablaze with lights and the first of the season’s party animals are being picked up by the annual ‘booze hospital’ service. Christmas is coming and, with Delia Smith back on the box, there’s a risk we will indeed be getting a bit fat.
Yet underneath the spice and sparkle there is a very real sense that this Christmas won’t be so laden with trimmings as it has been in recent years. For one thing, we are still in the midst of a recession. Young people are protesting over the lack of jobs, Croydon Economic Development Company are themselves in economic crisis, and a recent government report suggests that the number of rough sleepers on our streets is continuing to rise.
Yes, there have been signs of green shoots sprouting in East London, but it is hard to be jolly when all you can expect from the festive season is redundancy or repossession.
Tempting as it is to cast a golden hue on pre-credit crunch years, we should not be distracted by ghosts of Christmas’ past. Whilst the persistent suffering described at Tuesday’s anti-poverty conference was sobering, it breathed new life into the efforts of the organizations working to alleviate it – like the Off the Streets and Into Work initiative to help those in temporary accommodation move forward.
In fact, this issue is full of the extraordinary endeavours of volunteers who will spend most of their holiday helping people they have never even met. From selling Christmas trees for the homeless, to working around the clock in a booze hospital to free up front-line ambulances, their actions offer some light in an otherwise bleak midwinter.
When the Grinch ‘stole Christmas’ in the beloved Dr Seuss story, he found to his horror that it came anyway – without ribbons or tags, boxes or bags, or any of the other commercial trappings that capitalism has brought to the festive season.
A credit-crunch crimbo might be short of presents, but there’s plenty of reasons to be merry and bright. In the inimitable words of Mr Grinch: ‘Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.”