02 December, 2014 / General
When you’re a child, Christmas is a massive deal. You count the days, and lie in bed straining your ears for the sound of sleigh bells and the clattering of hooves on the roof. The big day passes in a whirl of Chocolate Oranges and those Matchmaker chocolate sticks (well, in my case it was the 70s…) and you fall into bed exhausted, hot-faced and happy.
Then you grow up, and Christmas might plummet into a cobbled-together affair in a grotty flatshare with nothing to eat but Shredded Wheat with a smearing of Rose’s Lime Marmalade – because you’ve spent all the money on drink. Still fine, though. There’s something terrible thrilling about shaking off family traditions and doing Christmas your way. Or maybe you still return to the parental home and relish everything being just as it was. My own family situation meant I didn’t experience this much beyond my early twenties, so instead I enjoyed creating traditions of my own.
During my thirties, I lost it a bit. With three children it seemed hugely important to create this amazing, perfect festive extravaganza, with limited resources: dragging a real seven-foot tree down the high street as it was the cheapest way to get one (apart from creeping into a pine forest at night, with a saw, which a friend still does. Sometimes, she sneaks back in the following night because the first one wasn’t quite right).
I know people in romcoms always look terribly jolly as they carry their Christmas trees through town, but they never show the real stuff – the anger and swearing, and a dog cocking its leg against the tree as the couple pause for breath. You never see Jennifer Aniston ripping the netting off the tree, throwing a bucket at her boyfriend and snapping, ‘You bloody well make it stand up.’
We made out own cards back then, creating a glitter tornado in the kitchen. Dinner for ten was crammed into a malfunctioning 1950s oven in our new (by which I mean old and crumbly) home, much to the consternation of our assembled relatives. And now? Well, I’m over all that. For everyone who groans about Christmas, claiming that they just want to run away to India or a little cave somewhere, maybe it’s a case of making a big, stressy thing out of what should just be really… fun?
Here’s what I won’t be doing this year…
- Gathering spiky foliage from the garden, like a country maiden, and draping it over the mantelpiece.
- Bringing a branch home from the park and spraying it silver. For years, I persevered with this bizarre tradition. It never looked festive. It just looked like a manky old branch.
- Wearing a onesie.
- Trying to ‘force’ hyacinths, whatever than means.
- Giving edible presents I’ve made. I’m always delighted to receive home-made things; I just have no wish to spoil anyone’s Christmas with my disappointing truffles.
- Hand-printing wrapping paper with a little rubber stamper.
- Running around tidying up all day, like a paper-gobbling machine.
- Feeling bad about getting a bit giddy, or everything not being like it is at Nigella’s house.
- Rationing myself of cheese, or in fact anything.
Really, it amounts to one day with lots of food and telly. That’s the way I look at it now. It’s a day. You’re not at work. It’s perfectly okay to have a glass of Prosecco for breakfast. And on Boxing Day a pile of friends come over, and we all tear into the leftover food, play drunken board games and appear in possibly the worst photos ever witnessed. I can’t wait.