I noticed at the end of July that the shops already had ‘back to school’ offers; and now, schools having gone back, the world of commerce has girded up for Christmas. Already three Christmas catalogues have come to me through the post.
I like being prepared for things: I buy my Christmas cards in January when they are cheap, and write my Christmas sermons in the tranquillity of the summer, but then I can forget about things until the appropriate time. What I do find upsetting is to be constantly encouraged to spend money in view of an event a long way off. I’m not sure how parents coped with buying school clothes in July, and then the subsequent growth of the children in the holidays, let alone any growth from September to December. In the retail world planning for next Christmas is typically finished by the arrival of the preceding one, but the poor consumer should be able to get through bonfire night before thinking of Father Christmas and presents. It is not the being prepared that is wrong, it is the expectation that money needs to be spent as soon as possible.
This is perhaps the nub of the question. Yes, I’m ready for Christmas, sermons written, cards ready, presents bought, if not wrapped. (When I see something that would be suitable for someone I buy it there and then.) But I have not spent a lot of money, and am in a position to resist the blandishments of the advertising industry, and the extra mark-up at Christmas. – Unlike the parents of adolescents undergoing their growth spurt, who could not put off buying clothes until the last minute, lest there were none left. These have to buy more clothes at half term. The whole thing is geared around money, not utility. We are badgered to buy; and if early, then we might buy twice.
What we need to do is to think positively and plan ahead. We know things are going to happen, Christmas is always on 25th December and children’s schools resume in September; these should not come as a surprise. I did know one clergyman who was always shocked by Christmas, and hurriedly wrote his Christmas sermon on 24th December, snarling at those who interrupted him with such questions as did he know where the crib had been put, and did he like the flowers? We know what we want at Christmas, so we can plan to buy things a bit at a time and spread the expense. There is never any need for a panic, but that is what the shops rely on for the ‘impulse buys’ with the wide profit margin. ‘Shop to the well-constructed list’ is the mantra that saves us from them.
So if you are one of the well-prepared, congratulations. If you are not, then enjoy the roller-coaster ride of your lifestyle, which might include moments of calm and moments of panic. But all of us must stay awake and be alert, for we don’t know when the Lord is coming, and we must all be well-prepared for that.