One feature of my childhood was the Wavertree Garden Suburb Christmas party.
The Garden Suburb Institute building still stands on Thingwall Road, around the corner from Christ the King church. Children in the neighbourhood were invited free of charge. It was the only social event we attended that was not Catholic. They said a funny grace before meals that we did not recognise – my first exposure to ecumenism. It made no difference to the food. It tasted better. There were spam and fish paste sandwiches and jelly and blancmange. Each child went home with a bag of sweets, a toy and an orange.
Looking back, the significant feature of that event for me was that it took place after Christmas, in late January. Christmas was never over until the Institute Party had been and gone.
In primary school we sang 'We long to see thee so'. The hymn matched the mood. We not merely longed for Christmas, we ached for it. Psychologists speak of delayed gratification. Advent was delayed gratification with a vengeance. The Christmas tree only went up on Christmas Eve. But Christmas, when it came, lasted 12 days, ending on the Epiphany. Carols were happily sung up to that point. The liturgy obliged by extending the Christmas season until 2 February, the Feast of the Purification.
Are there any Christmas parties in January these days? I doubt it. If we followed that pattern today, we would be out of sync with the rest of society. The cycle of Christmas parties begins before Advent itself. I go with the flow but cling to a few acts of defiance: I avoid eating turkey before Christmas Day and try to celebrate the Epiphany as if it were Christmas Day itself. And I leave my crib out until 2 February.