Before anybody gets their knickers in a twist, I acknowledge that for a lot of people Christmas is a very sacred and important holiday. However, I’m not religious and so my views are from a typically heathen standpoint. I know many would argue that as a
nonbeliever, I shouldn’t really be taking part at all but, in my defence, that would be impossible given that the length and breadth of the UK is swept up in festive madness, pretty much from September through to January.
Anyway, my dislike of the day itself was more or less guaranteed after a childhood shaped by Christmas day arguments and bad tempers. Every year would be the same. My dad is from a large Irish family defined by drinking and brawling, throw Christmas into the mix and you might just as well have pulled the pin on a hand grenade. And that wasn’t the worst of it. The drunken marauding would be offset by the martyred, pinched faces of the women, who had spent what often felt like the entire year cooking, cleaning and generally making everybody’s life a misery.
Post childhood, naturally things quietened down as everybody grew up and went their separate ways. However, the last eight Christmases have been defined by my father’s illness and then my mother’s widowhood. This will be the sixth Christmas since my father’s death and I can already predict what will happen. My mother will embrace the Christmas frenzy, baking, decorating and shopping like a mad woman and then, by 11am on Christmas Day (give or take an hour), it will all come crashing down. The
absence of the one person that she wants to spend Christmas with will overwhelm her and she will spend the day in mourning, ensuring that my brother, sister and I daren’t laugh, speak, move or breathe for fear of upsetting her further.
My own mood sours the minute everything goes into shutdown mode on Christmas Eve, heralding the lock down before I can escape on Boxing Day. By then everyone is so sick of the sight of each other, nobody even bothers to question where I’m slinking off to, despite everything being closed and only a limited bus service in operation. Frankly, by this point I’d walk to the North Pole and back just to get out of the house.
Before you go labelling me the incarnation of the Grinch, let me just say that there’s a lot about Christmas I do like. It’s just that it’s all pre-December 25th. For a start, I still get excited by the thought of an advent calendar. Although I have to confess, I have yet to get passed December 14th without ripping open all of the little windows in a fit of chocolate fuelled madness. That’s beside the point though, nothing can compare to that moment on December 1st, when you still have it all to play for. There is something so therapeutic about the physical ticking down of days that I have never managed to grow out of.
Food is another massive plus of the Christmas countdown. Suddenly people start producing Quality Street and Roses when pre-December you’re lucky to be offered a digestive biscuit. Let’s not forget the Christmas cake and chocolate Yule logs and when else do you get offered Baileys with your afternoon tea?
The Christmas ‘do’ is another area not to be underestimated. Social diaries are suddenly chock-a-block and there’s that surge of festive fuelled energy that you know you’ll pay for post Christmas but you can’t bring yourself to care. Nobody bats an eyelid as you stagger your way through the working day, bleary eyed and hung-over because –hey it’s nearly Christmas. In fact anybody who is bright eyed and functioning is viewed with suspicion – clearly a killjoy! Forget team building there’s nothing more bonding than witnessing your uptight colleague dancing on a table before throwing up on their shoes. And here’s what really brings a team together, nobody will ever refer to the drunken shenanigans again because just like in Vegas, what happens on the Christmas ‘do’ stays on the Christmas ‘do’.
The best bit about the run up to Christmas though has to be the fact that people start to seem nicer. Now I have no idea if this is real or if it’s just that my own perception of people becomes more welcoming and forgiving. I’ll admit, I can be a bit on the curmudgeonly side at times but, there’s something about December that makes me want to embrace my fellow man. Some would argue that it’s a cynical attempt to be offered more Quality Street but they would be wrong. December brings out my better self. The self that hardly ever gets bad tempered or grouchy.
I have my advent calendar at the ready then and am poised, waiting to bestow the milk of human kindness onto all who cross my path. I will embrace the Christmas spirit early because I know it’s all going to become ugly at approximately 5pm on December