Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas and tradition

click photo to enlarge
When I was young Christmas card pictures could, by and large, be grouped into three categories: the robin, religious themes and "traditional" scenes. The robin (Erithacus rubecula) was (and still is) popular because it's a bird that is seen more frequently in winter: it visits gardens more often at that time of year because food is scarcer in its usual haunts. Consequently, in many English minds it is thought of as a bird of winter and Christmas, though it is in fact a resident species. The religious themes were drawn mainly from the biblical story of the nativity. Since Christmas is at heart a religious festival it isn't surprising that such cards were, and remain, popular. Then there were the "traditional" scene cards. These showed a snowy Victorian setting, often at early evening. It would be populated with people in frock coats, top hats, bonnets, long dresses, mufflers and the like doing "Christmasy" things - carol singing, wassailing, going to or from a church that had glowing stained glass windows, welcoming Christmas visitors from a stagecoach, carrying lanterns as they visited neighbours etc. Such cards are still available, though not as popular as they once were.

It seemed odd to me at the time that a Victorian Christmas should be the one that we fondly gazed back upon. However, the rise of the modern Christmas owes much to that era. Christmas trees, cards, wrapping paper, multiple presents, and more were invented or popularised in the nineteenth century. Some details, such as mistletoe and the yule log were ancient customs, pre-Christian, but they too were brought centre stage at that time. It's often said that the great English novelist, Charles Dickens, invented Christmas as we know it. I think that is to overstate his influence. Through novels such as "A Christmas Carol" he tapped into a current that was already flowing quite strongly, and, though he certainly made a strong impact on how we see the festival (and is probably partly responsible for the "traditional" scene cards), his role was as a contributor, not an inventor .

Looking at my photograph of the centre of the small Lincolnshire village of Bicker set this train of thought in motion. The orange glow of the street lights, the light dusting of snow, the fast-fading light in the sky and the smoke from a chimney all brought to mind traditional scene cards. But it does need those cars to be replaced by a carriage and four!

photograph and text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Canon
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 28mm
F No: f5.6
Shutter Speed: 1/15
ISO: 3200
Exposure Compensation:  -0.33 EV
Image Stabilisation: On