I hate Christmas.
‘But Fat Bloke’, I hear you cry, ‘you are usually such a jolly, tubby fella, surely this is your time of year?’
This is the fourth time I have tried to write a piece about my dislike of the festive season, and each time I have ground to a halt, I can’t quite land the point and prove my argument. Thousands, literally, thousands of words have been hammered out; pointing out the gaucheness, the ugly consumerism, the sexism, the hypocrisy and the far right political prejudice of it all.
Do you own an ugly Christmas Jumper? Did you five years ago? I bet you didn’t, but, well, ya know, some of the shops decided they’d quite like some more money, so they invent a new thing. And we rush out and buy it. Now each year there seems to be a new Christmas product for us to buy, helping us create that ‘Perfect’ Christmas. Cushion covers! Mugs! Duvet covers for Christ’s sake!
And the advertising! Whiter than white families walking smiling together from stores as the first of the Christmas snow begins to fall. TV Adverts that all but say ‘Money equals love’. The very.co.uk advert this year actually showed a woman whose heart got bigger with every gift she gave! AAARRGGGHHH!
We look forward now with anticipation to the John Lewis Christmas ad, like that’s the official start of Advent. We compare the big brands for their heartwarming Christmas magic. They are adverts for shops! They are manipulating us and instead of barely tolerating it, we are then buying merchandise based on that advert! I have a photo of Little Bloke stood next to a life size figure of the snowman who goes to buy gloves for his girlfriend, from the John Lewis ad. a few years ago. (True story, we then got on the bus home, back seat on the top deck. Five miles from home he enthusiastically vomited over me and the seat. Ho ho ho. )
And ‘The War On Christmas’ bullshit. This has really been grinding my gears in recent years. You know what? Walk down any High Street, turn on any TV Channel, any Radio station after bonfire night (or Thanksgiving in the U.S). I think Christmas is holding its own. Saying Happy Holidays is just a nice way of saying ‘I hope you enjoy your holidays’. Christian or not, you’ll be getting a day or two off work. Enjoy them!
‘Umm, Fat Bloke’ I hear you say, interrupting again. ‘I’ve just checked the top of the page and you’ve called this piece Why I love Christmas. What’s going on ya idiot?’
Okay. Above are just some of the reasons why I hate this time of year. But I think the reason I had so much trouble expressing them before, is that, really, at the heart of the thing, I don’t hate Christmas for all the commercial nonsense or anything else. I hate Christmas because it personally brings back uncomfortable memories and feelings. My parents separated when I was quite young and that meant, each Christmas day, we’d get a visit from my Father and two older siblings, exchanging gifts. Everyone did their best to make it as pleasant as possible, and you’d think a seven year old on Christmas Day would not be aware of a strained atmosphere, but I was. I think every child in that situation is. That led to me often playing the fool, being silly, because making everyone laugh eases the tension. I’d be so excited waiting for my dad, but I’d also know that would be hard on my mum, and make me feel guilty. Add to that a new step-family also dealing with their own family break up and it all got mixed up inside. No wonder I was a bed wetter. (An affliction I’m bound to grow out of eventually.)
Both my parents and my step-father went out of their way to make it as joyful and special as they could. And I do have fond memories of my childhood Christmases, especially when I was old enough to start getting served wine. Then I became HIL-ARI-OUS. But often sleepy.
One thing more that annoys me at this time of year, is that conversation you’ll overhear in any workplace or supermarket. Two friends will stop and speak. ‘What have you got planned for Christmas?’ One will ask. ‘Oh nothing much, just a quiet one with the family.’ Listen, just because every supermarket shows its adverts with people filling their houses with guests, piling on food, that doesn’t mean that is a good Christmas. That’s only a good Christmas for their shareholders. A small Christmas, surrounded by those you love most in the world is the BEST Christmas. And it will be anything but quiet. After two hours round a table, at least from my experience, the wine has flowed and the tone has lowered.
When I think back, there are a few Christmases that really stick in my mind. In ’94 my sister had moved into a new house and only us siblings, her husband and young son were there. It was such fun, little did we know it was a milestone for some of us. It was the last Christmas where I wouldn’t be with the future Mrs Bloke, though we were ‘going out’ together. My other sister had just started seeing the man who would become her husband. We lunched long and hard, then went down to my dear ma’s where we all promptly fell asleep on the floor.
In ’13 my big brother and his wife were over from New Zealand and all us siblings piled round to my sisters again en masse for lunch. Including children and partners we were up to 17 round the table. (I was just looking at the photo, Mrs L and I briefly argued why she made it 17 and I could only count 16. It took longer than it should have for the penny to drop that a) I was missing from the photo and b) I was the one taking the picture.)
But, the Christmas memory that makes me smile, that makes my heart warm, is that Christmas moment that only comes once or twice for each child and each parent. Little Bloke was just two years old. We had decorated the lounge after he had gone to bed Christmas Eve, the presents were out, the tree was lit, Mrs Bloke carried him in and the look of wonder, excitement and just plain magic on his face was wonderful. It breaks my heart to remember it. That wonder only lasts a couple of years for each child, and I believe we make far too much effort trying to prolong that magic.
So, to sum up. Enjoy Christmas. It doesn’t matter if you’re an atheist, Jewish, Islamic, Hindu or Jedi. If you are Christian, then you can worship at a church, nobody is stealing that from you, but the festival is not just for you. Almost every element of the ‘Traditional’ Christmas is a hodge podge of pre-Christian pagan tradition and that is fine. It is a wonderful time of year, when we get together with our family and friends, take a day or two off work to eat, laugh, drink together. Exchange gifts if you want, only what you can afford, it’s not a competition. Your kids will grow up better people if they don’t always get everything they want. Celebrate it however you want, but celebrate it with those you love and try to think of those who can’t be with those they love.
I’m not a theologian, but from what I know of the teachings of Christ, he taught inclusion; from ‘suffer the little children’, to letting a sex worker wash his feet. The Good Samaritan is a story not about kindness, but about not judging those from different societies with different beliefs.
An annual festival, where people can sit and eat, in peace and companionship, whatever their religion. I believe Jesus Christ would have liked that idea very much, even if it was on his birthday. And don’t forget, it’s the one day a year you can have Quality Street for breakfast.
With one week to go before the big day, things are starting to get crazy. Remember; it doesn’t matter if you can’t find that perfect gift, if the sprouts are too hard, or the Yorkshire pudding’s overcooked. That won’t ruin Christmas. Relax, enjoy the company and just remember it only happens once a year.
Thank you for bearing with me. Wishing you all, in advance, a very merry and peaceful Christmas and I’m sure we’ll chat again before the new year.