I am most pleased with our street. So pleased that I am thinking of awarding medals. I don’t award medals every day, but this is not every day. Or rather, days. That is to say, days leading up to um, erm, er, you know …. Christmas.
Every year for the past few I have usually arrived home almost any time after December 1st in a slightly bad mood because every year, after December 1st, our street is emblazoned with Rudolf and his alarming, feverishly red nose and Santa clambering up (or is it down?) rope ladders hanging from balconies. Usually winking fairy lights hang from almost every protuberance, Scandinavian-type Christmas lights blink in the windows of those who, for some reason, like to show off that they have been to IKEA recently or else there are displays of mawkish pictures of an infant with a halo – a chubby, upper-crust white European kid who looks nothing remotely like the son of an impoverished carpenter from the Middle East. These things don’t depress me so much as niggle me. It isn’t because I don’t like Christmas but because red-nosed quadrupeds, obese men in red trousers, flashing lights and chubby overindulged brats have nothing at all to do with the season at hand. Like so many other things these days, we have transformed the symbol of something into a substitute for the real thing, a substitute which acts as a mask so that we can conceal reality.
But this year, glory be, our street is virtually untainted by Christmas tat, baubles or bling. Look down the street at night and the brightest light to be seen is the one outside the pharmacy, blinking green and white and red all hours of the day and night. Look up the street and the only changing colours are from the traffic lights on the junction with Constituição. Even the gaudy shop a few doors down, which seems to sell Christmas crud every day of the year, is mute and subdued. Only the new furniture shop (yes, another new furniture shop – I give it six months) has a discreet tree set back from the window. It is not quite tasteful, but it is approaching it (the only really tasteful tree would be one that remained in the forest where it belongs). So huge celebrations are due for a community wide, Scrooge-like endeavour this year. Although both celebrations and medals will have to wait a bit. It is, after all, still a week or so to go before the festivities so there could be a late spurt. I don’t want to count my reindeer before they, um, hatch?
But hang on. It isn’t quite as it seems. Not only are the houses hereabouts not displaying much, if any, festive cheer, but so not are the shops. That is to say, while it is clearly a good thing that people aren’t crowding into the shops crammed with consumer nonsense and running up huge debts on their credit cards, the empty shops are not a result of people seeing the light and doing things properly this year. (By properly I mean simply being nice to each other without the need for elaborate wrappings and disguises.) No, they are not doing it this year because they have run out of money. These include those people – we all know them – who will buy the latest digital must-have gizmo but somehow fail to put proper food on their family’s table. I dread to think what things are like in their homes these days for they have no state-of-the-art gadgetry to take their minds off their rumbling stomachs. And they have no pretty lights in the window to distract them at night when the hunger pains bite hard.
So behind those Santa-less balconies and tree-less and fairylight-less windows what is the story? It’s been a cold winter so far, so perhaps the Christmas tree has been burned to toast feet and chestnuts. Perhaps Rudolf has been butchered and skewered on kebabs to be cooked over candles. Who can tell? Suddenly, the decoration-free street looks more ominous. Perhaps I won’t be awarding medals quite yet.