December Is Silly Season
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Hi I’m Hilary and welcome to this latest podcast from Adept English. We provide podcasts every week for English language learners. Listen a number of times to the same podcast and this will help improve your understanding of spoken English. Understanding is the language skill which you need to improve first before you can learn to speak more fluently. There are lots of podcasts on our website for you to listen to and there is also our free course, ‘The Seven Rules of Adept English’. I’m just writing a simplified version of this for the introduction to our Course One, which will be available very soon.
Now if you’re an English language learner and you live in the UK, you will probably know what I mean when I describe December as ‘Silly Season’. ‘Silly’ means lacking common sense, lacking meaning, doing things which haven’t been thought through or which are not logical. Silly is sometimes used in English to mean ‘too much’. You might say of children who are playing and then who start to get too excited that they’ve become ‘silly’. And ‘Silly Season’ means that it’s not just a one-off event – it’s a whole season. A ‘season’ is a period of time, so autumn, summer, winter, spring are all seasons. But you can also have ‘holiday season’ – which would usually mean the last week in July and most of August, because that’s when people take a lot of their holidays.
So why is December ‘Silly Season’? Well, because in the UK, everyone seems to go OTT (that’s ‘over the top’) about Christmas. ‘Over the top’ or OTT again a bit like ‘silly’ means too much, beyond what is sensible. And it’s silly because the roads are much busier, restaurants are booked up, it’s even difficult to get an appointment to get your hair cut at the hair dressers. All because of Christmas. If you want to park in the town centre during December, you will probably have to queue for the car park! I work in London one day a week and return on the train quite late at night. In December I find myself queueing to get out of the car park because of all the shows and plays on at the theatres. So everything just takes longer! And then once we get to about 21st December, everything seems to shut down. Offices close, people take holiday – and if you want anything done, you generally have to wait until January.
Although the UK is officially a Christian country, the number of people who actually go to church and attend church services and who would call themselves Christians is becoming fewer. The number is getting smaller. And in fact, what is happening is that as fewer of the people born in the UK go to church, Christian churches in the UK are more and more filled with people who come originally from other countries, particularly outside of Europe.
Apparently, in 2016 the number of people in Britain who call themselves Christian (that’s 44%), for the first time fell below the number of people in Britain who say that they are ‘of no religion at all’ (that’s 48%). Now again, with migration, other religions like Islam are slowly increasing – but Christianity seems to be on the decline.
And yet, the traditions of Christianity are still very popular. People like churches and their architecture. People like to get married in church. People like church music – chorale music and hymns. Most people in the UK who identify themselves as ‘not having a religion’ would still agree with and try to live by most of the values which Christianity promotes. And the customs associated with Christmas and Easter don’t seem to be in decline at all. In fact the opposite is true – we seem to like them more and more.
So the month of December is ‘Silly Season’, because it contains Christmas. And even though most people in the UK are not religious, it is a big thing. Shops and restaurants make the most of the opportunity to sell more – and you will see shops decked out with Christmas decorations long before December. Many shops make a large percentage of their profit in the run up to Christmas. So we do a lot of gift-giving. Most people spend quite a bit on Christmas presents. It’s currently only 4th December and I’ve already been to a big restaurant meal with friends, in order to meet and give each other presents.
If you live in the UK, you’ll find that Christmas is a big thing, even if Christianity is not your religion. There are families from other religions, who don’t celebrate Christmas as such, but their children are so taken up with Christmas – that they end up having a little Christmas tree, with lights on it anyway, just for the children.
Even the food we eat at Christmas is very specific – and there are a lot of traditions. I was brought up in a Christian family, but I and my family are not particularly religious. And yet, would I be able to suggest that we didn’t do Christmas? My children would be absolutely against this – Christmas, like Easter has to happen in our household. There must be Christmas tree, there must be presents, there must be stockings hung up by the fire on Christmas Eve, 24th December. And there must be a big Christmas Dinner, with all the traditional parts to it, served on Christmas Day. Even before the actual day of Christmas, there must be lots of get-togethers, meetings between people who don’t see each other that often, so that they can have some drinks, exchange presents, catch up on each other’s news. Even our neighbours, who we don’t see very often to chat with, throw open their doors close to Christmas and invite everyone in for Christmas drinks and food. Even after Christmas Day – and the 26th December, which is called Boxing Day in the UK, we do a little tour of Britain, and go and stay with family in various locations. Things don’t get back to normal until well into the first week of January.
So why do we embrace Christmas, even though not everyone is religious and not everyone goes to church? Well, perhaps it’s because Christmas brings everyone together. It is an excuse to take some time off work, see family, see friends, light the fire and stay home, eat lots of food, which those of us who are usually health-conscious, wouldn’t usually eat. Even the news is fairly uneventful over Christmas – things come to a standstill. It comes at the start of the winter, when it’s often pretty cold and the weather can be gloomy, to say the least, in the UK.
So for those of us who aren’t Christian, who don’t have religious beliefs or who belong to another religion, why not enjoy the Christmas Season anyway?
I don’t really like the US tradition of saying ‘Happy Holidays’ instead of ‘Merry Christmas’ – that seems silly to me. Why should a religious festival be embarrassed at its own name? Better to call it what it is. Or, maybe we should bring back the old-English, pagan tradition of Yuletide for non-believers. Yuletide is an ancient celebration of mid-winter. If you’ve listened to my podcast on Halloween, where I talk about the original ancient festival of Samhain (pronounced ‘Sow-wen’), then Yule or Yuletide is the original ancient festival which became Christmas. And the traditions of Yuletide got mixed up with the Christian festival over the years anyway – so holly and mistletoe for example, are very much pagan Yuletide symbols.
So December is Silly Season in the UK. It may be silly season in your country too – certainly I think it’s like this in the US. But many countries are a bit more sensible about it than we are. And of course there are lots of countries whose religion isn’t Christianity anyway, so December is more of a normal month. But if you’re in the UK, take a deep breath, it’s December, here comes Silly Season, the run-up to Christmas.
Enough for now. Listen to this podcast a number of times. Have a lovely day and speak to you again soon. Goodbye.