I begin with a warning: I carefully selected this particular date for my #yulevent post because I felt it was far enough away from Christmas to avoid bringing down the festive mood too much, and that even if that was the result you would still have a fortnight to deck yourself in tinsel and down a pint of Baileys to recover. Which was very considerate of me, wasn’t it? However, if you’re the sort of person who enthusiastically dons a snowman sweater and a pair of comedy antlers on 1 December, has a mince pie for dinner every evening for the entire month and absolutely won’t hear a word said against the “magic of Christmas,” then you might want to look away now. Sorry. I’m sure that someone imbued with the true spirit of the season will write the next post in the series, and we can all forget that this aberration ever occurred.
Given my online reputation for cynicism, loathing and general unpleasantness, I sense that it won’t come as a great surprise to many Uborkans when I state that I’m not, and never have been, a huge fan of Christmas. My reasons for this aren’t particularly novel: there’s the ever-increasing length of the festive season, the rampant commercialism, the desperate tedium and unpleasant debauchery of end-of-year office parties, the press gang demanding inane jollity with a menacing warning that they’ll assault you with a forcibly inserted cracker if you don’t comply, and Christmas songs adorned with the cheap synthesizer settings labelled ‘chimes’ and ‘sleigh bells’ ringing out across the land. That’s before we even mention the excessively family-oriented nature of the whole holiday – a subject to which I’ll return. I’m sure you get the distinctly unoriginal picture, anyway.
Occasionally, I’ve found myself wishing that I still had a Christian faith, so that I could at least focus on the religious meaning of the festival and piously exclude all the above in the name of God. However, the Apparently Almighty One and I have been estranged since I turned my back on a teenage dalliance with happy-clappy ‘born again’ Christianity at the age of seventeen. I gladly embraced atheism after coming to the realisation that there’s nothing up there except a rapidly depleting ozone layer and a selection of ageing space hardware.
Thus, my attitude towards Christmas has, for a number of years, amounted to little more than the thought that those long days of societal closedown, overindulgence and endless televisual drivel offer a golden opportunity to take a tip from many of our animal cousins. Yes, it’s the best possible time to beat a retreat into midwinter hibernation. I’ll be under my duvet. Don’t wake me until 2 January at the earliest, thank you very much.
This general lack of enthusiasm for all things Yule has meant that I’ve been labelled a ‘Scrooge’ on more than a few occasions. For a couple of different reasons, it’s an epithet (an insult?) that I’ve tended to deny, rather than – as I’m sure was expected – wearing it as a badge of pride.
First, I can appreciate the enormous appeal of Christmas; I can see why people look forward to it – and people of all ages too, not just excitable children. (Though I do lose patience and begin to feel twitchily murderous towards those normally sensible adults who tweet “FOURTEEN MORE SLEEPS TIL SANTA!!!” Grow up, for pity’s sake.) No matter how you celebrate Christmas, there can be an undeniable sense of warmth and, well, just a general feeling of goodwill at the heart of many festive traditions. This might sound completely contrary to my perceived character, but when I see Facebook photos of families and friends sat beside their tree opening presents or eating their Christmas dinner, I don’t sneer, “Look at you all giving tawdry gifts that’ll be taken back to the store within days, then eating stone cold turkey and rock hard roast potatoes while telling crap jokes pulled from crackers.” No, I think, “That looks friendly, cosy, happy. Good.”
Second, just because I find little to love about Christmas, I’m not looking at those same Facebook photos while cackling and rubbing my hands with evil glee in the hope that Granny’s new toaster gives her a fatal electric shock or that little Billy has to be rushed to hospital because he’s choking to death on a turkey bone. (Neither, however, am I going to type “AMAZING!” or “Big hugggggs to all!” under each and every picture, but that’s purely down to my loathing of typical Facebook comments.) In short, and though you may find this hard to believe, I’m not harbouring some secret desire for everyone to have an utterly rotten time. When someone tells me about their plans for Christmas and I wish them a happy one, the sentiment is meant entirely genuinely and isn’t delivered through gritted teeth.
I will concede, however, that the family-centric nature of Christmas is a complex issue for me. My family is an exceptionally difficult and fractious group of people, to put it mildly, with a fraught history that stretches back decades. Trust me, I’m talking about more than a brief falling-out over holiday plans or an argument over an elderly relative’s last will and testament. We’re not about to kiss and make up and all gather at some relative’s house in the country for a huge festive jamboree – indeed, memories of the two or three occasions from my youth when we tried doing exactly that still send shivers through me. Undoubtedly, the most tedious and unbearable people I have to endure throughout the long festive run-up are those who greet any suggestion of family discord with thoughtless, empty platitudes: “Oh, but it’s CHRISTMAS! You’ve got to be with your family at CHRISTMAS! I’m sure you can put all those troubles behind you for CHRISTMAS!” No, no, we can’t. That’s simply not possible for some families. Now go away and take your nauseating, snow-dusted sentimentality with you before I’m forced to do something painful with this bauble.
Christmas can be a challenging period for anyone who isn’t part of a close-knit clan or has no relatives nearby, especially when images and ideas of the perfect festive family scene are incessantly rammed down our throats from late October onwards. It seems odd that although most people – except Tory MPs – are increasingly recognising that the ‘traditional’ family is an outdated notion, our stereotypical ideas about Christmas haven’t moved with the times. In the print media, in advertising, on TV and in many conversations, the festive season is ‘all about family’ and anyone who isn’t with their ‘nearest and dearest’ at this time of year is to be pitied.
Whether my background has influenced my thoughts about Christmas is a moot point. Having read this far, you’re probably busy conducting a quick psychoanalysis on me and ruefully nodding your head – whereas my response is to mumble indecisively before eventually concurring that while fifty per cent might be down to nurture, the other half is very much nature: the simple fact is that I am, true to form and reputation, very much a bad-tempered, cynical misanthrope.
I’ll admit there are moments when I think that, as in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, I would benefit from a spiritual visitation to show me the error of my ways (though in my neighbourhood, if I flung open my windows on Christmas morning and cheerily called out to a small boy to go and buy the largest turkey he could find, I’d probably get shot). I would honestly like to understand Christmas more; to gently welcome it rather than spending most of December in a state of creeping dread, wishing the whole event over for another year. As with so much in life, however, I just find the festive season rather bewildering because it doesn’t feel as if it’s something that’s intended for me. After the almost interminable build-up, when Christmas Eve eventually dawns the most I can muster in response is a very twenty-first century “meh,” before pulling the covers over my head.
I maintain that I’m not really a Scrooge about Christmas. That’s far too simple and clear-cut. I’m far more ambivalent than old Ebenezer. Whatever you’re doing, though, have a very merry time – and I mean that.
One of the best Christmases we’ve had recently was spent with two of our closest friends, all of us avoiding our families for the day. It was great fun.
I think I might be planning this for a future Christmas. All welcome, except our families.
And I may now have to rewrite mine a bit, damn you to a Family Christmas in a Beefeater somewhere.
I think the best festive film is “Trading Places” (set around new year and featuring the best Santa in cinema history, pulling smoked salmon through his beard on the bus). The reason for this is that it is ultimately about friendship and relying on your friends. Friends are the new family, and for the most part, you get to choose them.
Agreed – though it’s surprisingly difficult to plan a Christmas with friends, even in this day and age where, as you correctly point out, friends are often the new family Over the years I’ve tried to do so a few times, and though the enthusiasm is there at first from all parties, it’s tended to fall apart as soon as each of us announced to families that we wouldn’t be there for Christmas. I think the best reaction I ever heard was one friend whose mother greeted the news with “But you can see your friends ANY day of the year! This is Christmas! You’ve got to be with your family!” – seemingly without working out that seeing one’s family could also happen on any day of the year too.