Christmas Day is a time for celebration, festivities, for ‘family’ (as a concept, whatever the reality), competitive gift-exchange, over-consumption and pointless TV. We are told this emphatically by our popular culture, whatever our faith and traditions might be.
Still, that is no excuse for missing out on a good Archaeodeath post and to remind you that for many, it is a time of sadness, suffering, mourning and death. More so, if death is still ‘taboo’ in our society as many commentators do suggest, it is certainly so at Christmas.
So where’s the archaeodeath in Christmas?
Not only do people die on Christmas Day as on every other day of the year, but there are specific modes of Christmas death caused by over-consumption of food, drink, drugs, or consuming badly cooked food. Dying a Christmas death – whether just because of timing or circumstances – is a particularly tragic demise.
It is also a time when loved ones’ absence is often a powerful dimension to the day. This can be true for any individual or family, but it is particularly true for the elderly, when loneliness and death combine to compound the sense of loss. The loss of children, parents, and any other close relative, whether at Christmas or at any other time of the year, can be particularly hard on Christmas Day.
So today, there are many ‘archaeodeath’ dimensions; intersections between mortality and material culture. For instance, let’s remember that many graves and memorials will be visited and offerings left as well as the many prayers said to those that are gone and many tears shed in memory of those loved and lost. Also, many mementoes and photographs will be viewed and handled of those no longer with us.
In addition to that, let’s remember that Christmas fuels our frenzy in the creation of the archaeological record in many senses and a tiny fraction of these might have a mortuary dimension eventually. Just maybe some of the gifts we receive today will become the items we cherish most dearly, even if most will be rapidly used or consumed, stored and lost, discarded by being sent back to the shops, given away to charity or end up at the local recycling centre.
And if you are looking for a more direct memento mori post, let’s remember that not only will today’s presents will be enjoyed for sooner than we might hope, as we ourselves will all join the mortuary archaeological record sooner or later.
Let this sentiment mobilise you to both mourn and celebrate in equal measure! After all, death is also a celebration.
So stop reading blogs, let’s don our horned helmets, raise a fake tankard full of foaming poisonous foam, roast a freshly slaughtered osterich, and honour the dead as well as the living in true Yuletide Viking fashion!