Bah Humbug… It’s Not Like It Used to Be!

Christmas time! That man must be a misanthrope indeed in whose breast something like a jovial feeling is not roused — in whose mind some pleasant associations are not awakened — by the recurrence of Christmas. There are people who will tell you that Christmas is not to them what it used to be — that each succeeding Christmas has found some cherished hope or happy prospect of the year before, dimmed or passed away — and that the present only serves to remind them of reduced circumstances and straightened incomes — of the feasts they once bestowed on hollow friends, and of the cold looks that meet them now, in adversity and misfortune. Never heed such dismal reminiscences. There are few men who have lived long enough in the world who cannot call up such thoughts any day in the year.’

Charles Dickens, Christmas Festivities

It’s Christmas Eve…and it wouldn’t be a festive season without a bit of Charles Dickens thrown in.

Like many, I grew up with Christmas heat, but celebrated as if in winter. Some of my earliest memories of Christmas are at my Grandparents house on Christmas Day, with my Grandma sweating and swearing in the kitchen around the hot oven, roasting meats and deserts.

We would head over to their house in the morning, after opening our presents at home. My Grandpa would be out the back, setting up the trestle tables and tapping the keg.

I don’t remember food or mulled wine being on the trestle table. I only remember seeing if full of middy glasses. Some were clean and neatly stacked, waiting to be filled. Others were scattered, lined with froth and signalling a hastily drunk beer. Christmas mornings are thirsty work.

My Grandparents were a social bunch. They put on a few kegs on Christmas Day knowing that all their friends would drop in at some point and have a couple beers. I hung around because the beer pouring took place down the back near a nectarine tree and passionfruit vine. I used to eat all the fruit I could…especially passionfruit.

I don’t recall anyone being drunk though. And of course everyone drove.

But back in those days (late 70s) there was no such thing as drink driving. Well, there was, but it wasn’t very well policed. Apparently, if you were more than five kilometres away from home, you could drive under the influence. The rationale was that you HAD to get home.

So my Grandparents and their friends would drive down the coast somewhere and have a picnic, with plenty of beers thrown in for good measure. As a result, they had a day out AND didn’t have to worry about being busted for drink driving.

Scandalous behaviour I know. But it was the done thing back then.

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Having a few kegs in your backyard on Christmas Day probably wasn’t the done thing back in the 70s, but it was achievable. My Grandparents weren’t particularly affluent, but they managed to entertain well.

You could do that in the 70s. Wages were good back then and beers didn’t come with crippling taxes embedded in the cost. And land wasn’t a financial asset and a plaything of the middle class. It was affordable.

But things change. And the world tends to look rosier when looking in the rear view mirror. Especially when you’re a kid eating passionfruit and watching adults do the same, in their own way.

No, I’m not complaining about the way things are these days. Dickens wouldn’t approve of that. Whatever your means, Christmas should be fun.

Christmas rituals may change over the decades, but some things stay the same. Like making a feast fit for the middle of winter on a hot summer’s day.

With Melbourne set for 33 degree temps on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, I’m cooking turkey in the oven on one day and Italian herbed rolled pork on the BBQ on the other. It will be hot, but some beers will offer respite.

Speaking of traditions, the whole thing about Christmas being celebrated on 25 December is a little murky.

According to the internet (so it must be right) Christmas was first celebrated on 25 December in 336, during Roman Emperor Constantine’s reign. But Constantine moved the seat of the Roman Empire to Byzantium (or Constantinople, or now, Istanbul) in 330, so perhaps the first Christmas celebrations took place in modern day Istanbul?

Why 25 December? Some say it’s because 25 March was the day someone told Mary (Jesus’ Mum) that she would have a very ‘special’ baby. Add nine months and…

There’s also the idea that Christmas took over the Roman festival of Dies Natalis Solis Invicti (Birthday of the Unconquered Sun). In the northern hemisphere, 25 December is just days after the winter solstice. Hence the celebration to welcome increasing sunlight.

And there is a nice symmetry between sun and the Son. Personally, I think the pagans were on the money. You can’t live without the sun. But you could still get by (albeit in a heathen and depraved state) without the Son.

But I’ll be honest. I don’t care. Christmas is about friends and family, giving and forgiving. Dickens was bang on the money when he first wrote about Christmas in the 1840s…and he’s bang on the money now.

Have a great Christmas, dear reader. Thanks for putting up with us all year. We’ll be back with more outrage, ignorance and, if you’re lucky, insight, in 2016.

Stay safe, and best wishes…from all of us here at the Markets and Money.


Greg Canavan,

For Markets and Money

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Greg Canavan
Greg Canavan is a contributing Editor of Markets and Money and is the foremost authority for retail investors on value investing in Australia. He is a former head of Australasian Research for an Australian asset-management group and has been a regular guest on CNBC, Sky Business’s The Perrett Report and Lateline Business. Greg is also the editor of Crisis & Opportunity, an investment publication designed to help investors profit from companies and stocks that are undervalued on the market. To follow Greg's financial world view more closely you can subscribe to Markets and Money for free here. If you’re already a Markets and Money subscriber, then we recommend you also join him on Google+. It's where he shares investment research, commentary and ideas that he can't always fit into his regular Markets and Money emails. For more on Greg go here.

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