Had friends round for dinner tonight - great food; drink; and wide-ranging, life-affirming conversation.
As the time came to kick them out, I commented that this year the build-up to Christmas seemed more under-stated than I could remember in the past (though I admitted that my memory was probably selective). But the consensus was that this was, indeed, true - and a theory offered: the material build-up to Christmas has declined as the material build-up to Halloween has exploded. Time was when you'd be struggling to navigate your shopping trolley past the cage of Christmas merchandise in the centre of the supermarket aisle from September onwards (admittedly, too extreme); now, you're hard-pushed to find any Christmas trappings until well into November, after the post-Halloween stock has been sold off cheap...
Why the fascination with death and evil and the dark - with friends, we took our kids to the national tram museum at Crich this autumn, and Susannah was terrified by the ghosts and skulls hanging in the trees, and a young girl wearing a hideous witch's mask over her head - rather than with life and goodness and light?
There is a resurgent interest in spiritual things - witness two recently-opened magic shops in Hillsborough - but quite aggressively anti-Christian. (This coupled with the politically-correct "we can't publically endorse Christmas; it might offend people of other faiths" line The Sun has campaigned against this year. In fact, in a liberal and multi-faith society, each religion's festivals should be marked; it is the attempt to replace them with a lowest-common-denominator recognition of faith that is offensive to people of all faiths.)
Apart from any other factors at play, those of us who would choose to identify ourselves as Christians have failed to hold out the hope we have in a way that engages those around us; that speaks to whatever they are seeking to address elsewhere. And that should be cause for us to stop and reflect once more on what this season is really about - that God breaks in to our day-to-day experience, and lives it with us in undeniably empowering and transforming ways.