A Scrooge sings his song a bit early

Looking forward to christmas?" I asked her insouciantly. This on January 3. "It's only just finished!" "I mean next Christmas." "We-e-e-ell, mmmm," she said. Or something like that. This, I believe, is a good test for Christmas enthusiasts. They should, I assume, be sorry it's over and eagerly anticipating the next one. But ... have you ever met anyone quite like that? She calls me a Scrooge, of course. But I don't think Scrooge deserves his bad press. It wasn't Christmas per se he was against. He just wanted business as usual - to go on making and counting money. To work. So, I can't be a Scrooge. Counting money was never my forte ... and work - well, I find it tends to get terribly in the way of living. Poor old Ebenezer was undoubtedly misunderstood. But what really puzzles me is why this archetypal money-grubber failed to perceive the commercial potential of Christmas. If he'd given it a moment's thought, he would surely have abandoned his cries of "bah!" and "humbug!" and posted above his door knocker an attractive sign wishing all his customers a Merry Christmas (with its unstated but understood corollary: "And a prosperous New Year to me"). So, anyway, it's over for another year. Almost a memory now. Then why am I going on about it? Well, one doesn't want to pour cold water on the fun before it ends. Besides, in the countdown to Dec. 25, grumps like me are fully aware (more so than the turkeys) of a battle already lost. And, well, OK, I also admit (though don't tell anyone) to one or two things I like about Christmas. Things I suspect the world would be duller without. CAROL-SINGING, for instance. I haven't had the opportunity to do it much in recent years, but even only occasionally experienced, it resounds in the memory. Soggy song sheets; breath clouding in the darkness; scarves and gloves proving inadequately cozy; icy rain descending or about to; but above all, the uncomplicated geniality of the gleeful cacophony tossed with rude sweetness into the night by voices of all ages and types. What compares to the jangling gusto of "Once in Royal David's City," "The First No-oh-el" and "Ding Dong Merrily on High" belted out in optimistic unison, the showoffs attempting a descant or two? And all this rugged jubilation (this is the best of it) is performed without regard for musical competence. You may not be choir material. You may be barred, for sound reasons, from singing the Messiah in public. But anyone can sing carols, anywhere - and anytime. Personally, I sometimes sing them in summer. Quietly, of course. I even enjoy that pagan love song "The Twelve Days of Christmas" - way up there, for me, with back-of-the-bus classics like "Ten Green Bottles" and "One Man Went to Mow...." Truly it is no less absurd than they are. I mean, how could the crescendo of preposterous gifts sent by that person to his/her darling be in any manner equated with "true love?" No one looks a gift in the mouth. But who, even if Cupidly-challenged, could possibly relish 10 (my goodness, it wasn't 11, was it?) pipers piping in their living room? Not to mention numbingly numerous dancing ladies, leaping lords, and milking maids? Not good for the carpets. In fact, this silly song (amusingly satirized in a little book this past Christmas titled "The Twelve Days of Christmas [Correspondence]," by John Julius Norwich with delicately commotional illustrations by the inimitable Quentin Blake) sums up some of the more obvious reasons I have for boldly proposing a Christmas rethink. FOR a start, this carol actively promotes the old practice of continuing the Christmas celebration long after Dec. 25 - indeed, until Jan. 6. This idea seems to be catching on again. The ever-increasing length of the holiday suggests that the whole Western world is nothing but a lazy dog stretching in front of a log fire, a creature composed of nothing but warmth and sleep. And there is also that well-known extension - a vanishing perspective beyond reach of all known culinary ingenuity - of the infinitely unvarious ways in which one can re-jig turkey. The carol also unwittingly questions what might be called "gift overkill." Lovers may be tempted in this respect. Some parents definitely are. Forgivable madness, naturally. But when people are found still paying off credit cards in July, whatever happened to the concept of "less is more"? It is, however, in the realm of the "inappropriate present" that "The Twelve Days of Christmas" makes its most vivid point. I mean, what you do with the mouse-hued, diamond-patterned, short-sleeved sweater your auntie's neighbor lovingly rustled up for you on her needles is one thing. But what if the beloved in the carol just happened not to be a bird-lover?

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