Someone is having Turkey for dinner tomorrow. The bird was sitting on a neighbour’s doorstep, its head poking out of a sack, glancing up and down the alleyway, waiting to be taken in doors to become dinner.
Other than that, there have been no signs of Christmas in Taroudannt. Indirectly, the festive season has brought a handful of tourists in to town, as they head for this remote corner of North Africa to avoid the festive season back home. But beyond that, nothing. No tinsel or baubles, no Christmas carols and no special TV programming, no pressure to spend money on things nobody needs, no competitive relations trying to out-do one another in displays of Dickensian Christmas hospitality, no insincere Christmas cards from colleagues, no forced jollity at the work Christmas party. Just normal life in a calm, friendly town.
Taroudannt has had no shortage of celebrations in the past months, with both religious and national holidays. We were here for Eid Al-Adha, when people returned to their family homes for feasting and festivity. As we have no family here, our main involvement in this was being kept awake by Fred, the tap-dancing sheep, up on our roof.
The sheep may not have been called Fred, and he may not actually have been tap-dancing. But as he clattered around in the night, he made us think of Fred Astaire. The kids from downstairs scurried excitedly past our door each day as they went up to feed and water him, and he looked pretty happy on a bed of grass that had been laid down for him. But come the morning of Eid, he became the focus of the festivities, much as a turkey might star in a Christmas or Thanksgiving feast.
There is a similarity between Christmas and Eid. Both are festivals of thanksgiving, are religious in origin, centre around a grand and meaty meal, and are times for families to come together. In many ways, Eid is what I’d like Christmas to be, if I had a choice. A festival of celebration, with those one cares for.
Of course, Christmas in the UK isn’t like that. It’s gratuitously consumerist, with heavy alcohol consumption, a rise in many crimes, and underlying tensions between the sacred and the profane. And so being out here, with no advertising and no avarice, no over-excited children nor inebriated adults, is a wonderful relief. It’s fantastic. I’m calm and happy.
But I still miss Christmas. I’m happy to have avoided it. But I miss it, all the same.
This year, I will enjoy the sunshine and tranquillity. Next year, I hope to be back with my family. In my personal opinion, Christmas is a deeply flawed and often highly stressful holiday. But we all need a time for hope and love, and for all its flaws, Christmas is my culture’s answer to that need.