It is not yet New Year, but one is confronted by the depressing sight of Christmas trees tossed out as rubbish for collection, to be dragged to the dump and there laid not to rest but to rot alongside all manner of discarded dreams and nightmares.
Does any one in this country know the meaning of the 'Twelve Days of Christmas' or when those days occur? I was dismayed to overhear a radio commentator on the 18th announcing that 'We are continuing with our countdown of the Twelve Days of Christmas' as if it were somehow related to the twelve last days of frantic shopping BEFORE Christmas.
The First Day of Christmas begins on Christmas Eve and the Twelfth Day is 6 January, otherwise known as Twelfth Night. Christmas Eve celebrates the birth of the Divine Child and Twelfth Night celebrates the end of the long journey of the 3 Magi or Three Kings. On Twelfth Night, it is the visit of the Three Kings that is celebrated. In England, it is known as Pancake Day. In other traditions, cakes are made with a bean inside and the person who finds the bean is crowned as 'King of the Bean' (or Queen as the case may be) and chooses his/her partner blindfolded. The custom is descended from the old 'Lord of Misrule' who was allowed to reign over the Year's end. It is all a matter of balance: Darkness with Light, Winter with Summer, Birth with Death.
All forgotten, alas, in the commercial insanity that has elevated Hallowe'en to the greatest consumer festival of the year and has made Christmas follow hard on the heels of All Hallows Eve. Sweets for Trick-or-Treat are supplanted by sweets for Christmas stockings on the 1st of November now.
Festivals are supposed to be sacred days, time that is set apart from ordinary time. One cannot create a sacred day unless one separates it from the other days. When one is bombarded constantly by commercial reminders of an upcoming festival, there is no anticipation any longer, no time to savour the idea of the festival rather than being forced to wade through an endless procession of advertisements.
What can one do?
I for one took out the Gamecube and loaded Animal Crossing into it. Having done that, I set the clock to 24 December and spent about an hour pulling the vast number of weeds that had proliferated since I last visited my home village of Asgard. I performed this humble, back-breaking task in a festive mood, however, as all the trees were ablaze with coloured fairy lights and the distant sound of sleigh bells could be heard. I began to feel it really WAS Christmas Eve finally. Snow was falling gently as I continued to pull the weeds in every square of my village. It was sunset when I completed that task.
I went home and made certain that the Large Festive Tree was set in the centre of my parlour. Unfortunately, a few pesky cockroaches had infiltrated the place in my absence, so I had to deal with THAT embarrassing reminder of my neglect before I could enjoy the beauty of my well-appointed mansion again.
At 8.00 p.m., the official Announcement: A special message to you all: Happy Holidays!
I knew then that my efforts had been worthwhile. Jingles had come to Asgard!
I left the house and proceeded to search for the magical reindeer. Now that the town no longer was choked with weeds, I really was able to enjoy myself. I went from square to square, over the little bridge that separated my house from those of my neighbours and down the hill towards the Wishing Well. A few Animals were out, and I made certain to greet them, enduring their reproaches for having been away for months. Some of my neighbours actually pretended they didn't recognise me at first.
Finally, I spied a red suit and hat and ran to greet Jingles the Reindeer.
Jingles: 'Happy Holidays! I'm Jingle, the black-nosed reindeer! Aren't holidays wonderful? Tell me the truth: you love it for the presents, don't you? Just look at all this snow! It's a white winter! How romantic! But I've got a lot of work to do, so I don't have time to socialise right now! I'm supposed to deliver all these presents to good children all over the world! I love my job! I deliver dreams and hopes to everybody! I'm the luckiest reindeer in the whole, wide world! Ho ho ho!'
He did not even offer a gift to me. I was a little upset, but vaguely recalled that one had to speak to him repeatedly. I therefore greeted him again.
Jingles: 'What is it? We just spoke. You're so naughty!'
Then: 'Oops, I've really got to get going now. I've got a lot of work to do if I want to finish delivering all the gifts tonight... Well, I'll see you around! Buh-bye!'
I was left again without any gift. I vaguely remembered that one had to change outfits to trick him into thinking that one was a different person, so I hunted down a different outfit, clothed myself and greeted him again, only to be treated to the same speech.
Speaking to him once more:
Jingles: 'Oh, it's you again. Say, which do you like better, big things or things you can fold up?'
I chose 'Big things'.
Jingles: 'Of, of course! Big things, by all means! It's the size of the gift that counts, you know! The better you've been, the bigger the gift!'
Although he had asked my preference, he gave me nothing. Stubbornly, I greeted him again.
Jingles: 'Say, which do you like better, things that are woven or things that are printed?'
Now I was becoming rather frantic. I did not wish to waste all my outfits when he did not give me a gift no matter what I did, but I was not about to admit defeat. I greeted him once more and heard the same speech from him, then:
Jingles: 'Hey, I'm not really supposed to do this, but I'll give you a gift. I think you'll find that it's something you like! Seeing you smile makes me the happiest reindeer in the world! Oh, I'm so lucky! Well, I still have work to do. Buh-bye!'
I was as thrilled as any child on Christmas morning to find a wrapped gift in my rucksack. I rushed home to examine my new Jingles furniture. It was a set of shelves, complete with striped candy cane and holly.
Now I could change my outfit and try again. I ran through the village, dashing from square to square, looking for the magical reindeer. When I found him, he first thought I was the same person but then was deceived by the different clothing I wore.
Jingles: 'Say, I have exactly one gift left over. Strictly speaking, I'm not supposed to do this, but... I'll give it to you! I'm sure you'll find something you like in it! Your smile matters more to me than the most precious gift imaginable! Oh, I'm the luckiest reindeer in the whole wide world! Well, looks like I've got to hoof it. Buh-bye!'
Dear Jingles! He kept the Spirit of Christmas alive when the television aired programmes of murder and mayhem and advertisements shouted about product after product. It is curious how excited one becomes when one receives an imaginary piece of furniture, of all things. A diamond necklace would be more thrilling in reality, but the magic of Animal Crossing is powerful enough to make one believe that a complete set of furniture represents both happiness and worldly success! Special furniture, like Jingle's set, available only at Christmas if one is able to persuade Jingles to part with it, is the ultimate treasure in this charming world.
New Year's Eve approaches now. Last year, I celebrated in the Town Square with Tortimer and my Animal Neighbours in Animal Crossing Wild World for DS. I think I will do so again.
For any one who is disillusioned by the commercialism of the holidays, or is lonely or heavy of heart, I recommend that he or she visit Animal Crossing... (If you need a game guide, you are welcome to use the one I wrote for Animal Crossing Wild World.)
Happy New Year!