There’s something odd happening in our village: there are round red-suited figures on windowsills, strings of lights popping into life, wicker reindeers appearing in gardens. It’s mid November and Christmas decorations are going up. It might be pressure from excited children who just can’t wait for the festive season now the dark autumn evenings are here, but more likely it’s the adults who want that Christmas ‘feel’ to come sooner and last longer.
People want some magic in their lives, some mystery, some sparkle, and in our intensely rational age, Christmas can seem to be all there is. It doesn’t really matter what it means – Christmas is a hopeless mess: a confusion of stars, camels and sandy deserts alongside reindeers, Elves on shelves, Coca-Cola trucks and mistletoe. The warm glow of the season is more likely to come from reckless shopping, seasonal spirit from the drinks cabinet.
This need for magic only re-affirms the importance of what John Cowper Powys spent most of his life writing about – the magic contained within the ordinary, the ability of us all to enjoy “life in itself”, if we would only block out the noise of modern life and cultivate our way of seeing and thinking. For Powys every day was a holiday/holy day.
For a head-clearing antidote to a 21st century Christmas it’s worth turning to John’s brother Llewelyn, whose Christmas essays balance an atheist’s perspective with his fascination for religious traditions and a receptivity to the moods of the winter season.