Christmas: ‘the season of chills and ills, and, alas, bills’

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Two Christmases a century apart but with many common themes.

In 1921, Fife was still emerging from war and pandemic, and money was tight.

This year we have war in the Ukraine, COVID is still an issue, and we are in the grip of a growing cost of living crisis.

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The parallels are perhaps best captured in the editorial column of the Fife Free Press published on December 24, 1921.

A group of orphans receiving Christmas gifts in East London.  (Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)A group of orphans receiving Christmas gifts in East London.  (Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)
A group of orphans receiving Christmas gifts in East London. (Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)

It struck a downbeat note from its opening sentence; “The season of chills and ills, and, alas, bills is once again upon us, and the third Christmas after the war finds us less happy than did the first.”

But despite that bleak overview, it looked for reasons to be cheerful - which, perhaps, we need as much this year.

I know it’s a cliche, but what perhaps goes around indeed comes around.

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It’s difficult to imagine life in 1921. Fife was recovering from the Spanish Flu Pandemic, and while war had receded, its impact had not. The legacy of so many deaths of young men meant there were 19% more 25 year-old women than men of the same age according to the national census which was conducted in June of that year.

Post war, society was changing - new laws meant women could now pursue careers in professions such as law, medicine and the civil service - and The Press strived to accentuate the positive.

“What would this old world be like were it not for the cheery optimist? It is true he may have lacked a job for a good few months back, but he has got to the stage at which he will tell you he’s becoming used to it.

“It is such traits as that which has pulled our nation through many a crisis. It is just that disposition which will stand us in good stead now and for the future.

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“A great many, too many indeed, will this year be without the means of seeing in the festal rites of Christmas anything more than an occasion for bitter cynicism.

“But there are others. It has been quite common these days to see car loads of people laden with Christjkas cheer, exhaling all around them the spirit of the season.

“If only such a few were to exchange the spirit for the letter, how many more might share, were it but for the smallest extent, in the general goodwill which the season is supposed to spontaneously generate.

“Our Christmas message should be a personal one. There are so many who would appreciate it. On looking around us, the magnitude of the task appals one single pair of hands or one single heat. A little, a very little, private self denial may send a ray of comfort to many a cheerless hearth.

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“The churches will ring out their centuries old message. Will it have this year just a little more practical application?“Peace on earth; goodwill towards men. That is a triumphant note upon which to haste the out year old and await the new. If it were but translated with earnestness and energy into all implies, the troubles of a sorrow-stricken world would indeed be over.”

A century on, the message hasn’t changed. Merry Christmas.

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