It’s mid-December as I write this and the farmyards, the stately homes and converted stable blocks of rural Fife are aglow with rustic Christmas ‘Fayres’. Leaving aside that I’m clattering around the cobblestones on crutches, what could be more festive and redolent of Christmas past than the twinkling lights, the smells of trees and mulled apple juice and the stalls selling home baking, handmade decorations, crafts of all varieties? Sitting on a low straw bale – you forget how hard straw is – in the corner of a huge barn, next to an old cable reel (now a makeshift table), it’s easy to forget that this is – to me at least – relatively new. It feels both very archaic and very now – the ancient barn walls, lumpy and whitewashed and high above, the new corrugated iron roof, their strip lights glowing much brighter than the dreich pewtery daylight that gleams in the windows overhead. In the barn, a kind of fantasy village square has been erected in four aisles, stalls with red and white striped awnings and, in the main thoroughfare, a huge Christmas tree, wide, dark and feathery in its own little low-fenced enclosure, pulling the huge space in towards itself with outstretched maypole-like tendrils of tinsel braided with fairy lights, a benign still centre around which a river of human traffic flows noisily.
Woodcrafts, papercrafts, ceramics, chocolate, textiles – a handmade version of Christmas that feels traditional and olde worlde (cinnamon and orange slices floating in the apple juice; carol singers rising above the sound of the generators) while also being extremely fashionable and 21st century. It’s a secular Christmas, albeit characterised by its pagan and Christian accoutrements, welcoming to all (this is the ‘real meaning’ if there has to be one I think; and really, sharing Christmas with everyone else is the least the little baby Jesus can do for hijacking a pagan winter festival). Technically there is commerce, but the tupperware tubs of coins and the brown paper bags and recycled, hand-stamped business cards hardly feel ‘commercialised’ in the He-Man and Transformers sense of the childhood Christmases I actually remember (or indeed in the sense of the relentless “Christmas adverts” which unbelievably but cleverly, seem to be a talking point in themselves now – though with typical irony, the Christmas industry favours the same pre-industrial image of the festival that the fayres try to embody). It’s all very twee and, to reinforce that, I’ll say it’s kind of an upcycled (eye roll) memory of Christmas that probably doesn’t bear much resemblance to anything that the stallholders and organisers themselves remember. In fact, if anything it feels like an attempt to create Christmas as depicted in cards and calendars since time immemorial.* But – this will one day be the (or a) memory of childhood Christmases for all of the kids who are roaming around looking at their phones in the draughty barns and muddy farmyards – and that’s kind of nice.
* that is, the late 19th century