In town today we had a lovely few hours with our friends from Homebaked at the Quaker Meeting House. Principally there to take part in the Christine Physick exhibition of Anfield Art that I wrote about last week, our conversations, in fact, rambled far and wide. Through life and the living of it and the wonders of monkey puzzle trees (Sarah was there with us after all).
One thing that didn’t get a mention all over the morning and the lunch that followed was Christmas. But as soon as we all emerged into the heaving Saturday streets, preparations for Christmas were in full swing and I suffered my first and traditional annual attack of nausea. Because I loathe Christmas. And I thought it might annoy you or amuse you if I were to tell you my 10 reasons why. Eight negative ones, ending on a bit of an upswing.
1. Why should I like Christmas?
If there were a ‘faith’ based reason, I could more easily get away with what you might think is my irrational response to the annual onslaught of festivity. You might not understand me but you’d be kind hearted and tolerate the fact that ‘Oh, he doesn’t do it do it, it’s because of his religion.’
But I have no religion, so over the years people have had to face the full on fact that I just won’t do it. I just won’t join in. Which of course, in itself, like the other things I won’t join in with like parties, television and family dos in general, gives me great and perverse pleasure and has landed me in a deal of trouble over the years.
But it’s me exercising my free will and, as far as I know it’s still a free country, so why should I like Christmas?
2. Alternative Christmases don’t work
In our first couple of years together Sarah and I did in fact do Christmas, sort of. I remember small trees and doing presents. Because each of us thought the other probably ‘expected’ Christmas to happen. When we both realised this wasn’t the case there was much genuine rejoicing in letting go of all the traditional trappings of the great feast. But for a couple of years we still did ‘alternative’ Christmases.
So weak were these that I’ve had difficulty remembering what they consisted of, and have had to ask Sarah. Who tells me that our big idea was that we moved the whole thing to Solstice, had a Solstice meal and, well, Solstice presents. And it worked no better than the real thing 3 or 4 days later.
So I think you either do Christmas or you don’t. A couple of friends (Hello Sarah and Dom!) go fully and joyously into it and, I understand, decorate the whole house and truly feel there is magic to be had in the glorious traditions. Good on them and you either do Christmas or you don’t. Because alternative Christmases don’t work.
3. Christmas is for kids
So yes, if you’ve got children you’re pretty much obliged to do it. Providing them with a sense of wonder whilst hoping the whole thing doesn’t tip over into rampant greed. But once they’ve grown and gone, why bother?
You can both get up early on Christmas morning, skip excitedly down the hall and shout ‘He’s been!’ But unless you’ve somehow failed to grow up yourself you well know he hasn’t been, that there’s no such thing as Father Christmas and there never was.
It’s for the kids and it’s a fair enough collective lie all parents go along with for a few years.
4. Christmas is for Christmas dos
And when I worked in a big organisation the annual do was always the cause of great excitement:
- What’re you wearing?
- Who’s got off with who?
- Did you see the state of…?
- Was I there?
But often the ‘dos’ of our’s and all the related housing organisations would last for most of December. And it always puzzled me the way people would pack more or less all their year’s social life into one month?
Anyway, these days I don’t miss them. And Sarah and I have long stopped jostling our way into a crowded restaurant sometime in December and calling it our ‘Christmas do.’ The special menus are specially crap, so we eat at home or on the allotment and wait for space in the cafés to clear after it’s all over.
5. It’s all about family
Oh is it? I’d assume if you particularly like them you’d see members of your family now and then throughout the year.
But my memories of Christmases mercifully long gone are of getting together with some and distant family members not seen since the previous Christmas. And the agony of each giving and receiving presents from people we mutually didn’t much know and didn’t much like either. I remember particularly the after-shave I continued to receive each year from a particular someone for years after I’d grown a beard.
In the end, for me, all the family Christmases merged into one and I stopped turning up.
The families no doubt still meet, better off without me there spoiling it for them.
6. Christmas music is an offence against humanity
Like the first cuckoo in Spring, the first hearing of Slade let’s you know this year’s Christmas has really begun. Then the rest of the horrors start blaring at you in every shop you go in. Step into Christmas, I wish it could be Christmas every day, the one about old Mr Churchill, the Phil Spector ones and that nasty ‘It’s getting to look a lot like Christmas’. Every year, for about 6 weeks, the whole of shopping humanity is force fed the same aural pap.
It’s an offence against humanity.
7. It’s all about shopping
So many people’s faces in town today looked so grim, set and determined. The politics of family and friendship apparently depending on finding and choosing just the right things and, for goodness sake, the right things to ‘go with’ the right things for everyone you know or are related to. Every twelve months! An orgy of shopping for expensive or pointless or both crap. The price of being a functioning member of society.
Because it’s ‘good for the economy’. In fact large parts of the economy, especially in these days of austerity politics, depend on the goings out and the giving of gifts at Christmas. Each year the lap dog press congratulate or admonish us, depending on whether the city centre shops have had record takings or not.
And at Christmas it may well, as the old saying goes ‘be better to give than receive’ – but you stop giving and see how quickly your own receiving will cease.
Well I haven’t bought a Christmas present in years. And if that’s the price of being a fully paid up member of society you can stuff it. I’m happy out here on the outside.
Because if it’s all about shopping then it’s nothing to do with me.
8. And every year there’s a gathering sense of anti-climax
As the big day approaches and the ‘January’ sales start earlier and earlier in December, there is a tangible sense that once again the big bet is not going to come off. That the dos and the meals and the giving and receiving have once again not brought the wished for happiness and fulfilment.
And the January depression gathers earlier even than the realisation of the January debts.
It’s just too big a thing, it seems to me. An addiction that leads where addictions always lead. To a cold and desolate aftermath and the grim realisation that before long you’ll be wanting the short term hit of another Christmas again.
9. But we do have sparkly lights
Apart from all the Christmas shit we do like this time of year. The gloaming and the darkling down to the turning of the year. We love the warm glow of the home we know we’re fortunate to have and the love of each other in our quiet place.
With our candles and our sparkly lights. Which we’ll have until the spring returns. Not for us going all dull again on the 6th January.
10. And for us this is a time of retreat
Of gathering silence as nearly everyone else gets on with something else. These days now Sarah’s a funeral celebrant her work doesn’t slow down in the way our joint work used to. But still at the centre of it all there are days when we sit contentedly and peacefully outside of what society is doing.
Walking round the empty streets of the city once all the shopping has stopped. And the silence gathers.
For us this is a time of gathering retreat. Quietly withdrawing from the annual madness.