As a Habitually Invisible Woman, I find myself constantly amazed by the degree to which I’m reflected in media representations of the season. Capable Mother, organising excited children and hapless husband, supported by the big supermarkets and corporations which understand her pursuit of the Perfect Christmas better than anyone with whom she might actually be spending it. It’s almost as though I exist – at least until Boxing Day, when it’s all cut price sofas and holidays until business as normal kicks in in January, the ironing fairy moves back in and the meals start cooking themselves again.
Things change at this time of year. People go to church, even though they don’t go at any other time of year. Charitable donations increase. Adults of all religions and none well up at the sight of children shuffling across a stage with tea towels on their heads. We suspend our critical faculties to sing along with songs that call Africa a place where nothing ever grows and no rain or river flows, that contain catchy tales of date rape and/or ghastly homophobic insults, and that peddle outright lies. Absolutely no one, anywhere, wishes it could be Christmas every day.
But being briefly reflected in the media does not equal being seen. Capable Mother, rescuing Christmas with a well-timed luxury dessert, or secretly resting while everyone thinks she’s baking, thanks to the supermarket’s splendid mince pies, or quietly making her housekeeping money stretch to a longed-for toy because of the benevolent retailer’s thoughtfully-timed discounts, renders me as invisible as I actually am for the rest of the year. Big business is not a benevolent venture whose sole mission is to make my life easier at Christmas. Big business creates, then battens upon, the image of a ‘perfect’ Christmas. It creates, then reinforces, the perception that it’s Capable Mother’s responsibility to deliver it. I’m not seen – I’m co-opted into my own oppression. (And yes, I am really good fun at parties.)
And so I offer an eighth commandment – thou shalt take thine eyes off the prize. The prize is an illusory bauble. It doesn’t exist; if you reach for it, it shifts like the end of the rainbow when you walk towards it. But the colours are real. The sunlight; the rain; the story of the pot of gold. We’ve taken all these fleeting joys and from them have woven an idea of God that we can write down and argue about. We want answers. Proof. A perfect Christmas; a glorious final destination. But we just need to take a little care, in case keeping our eyes on the prize becomes a way of shutting them to everything else