Christmas Capers…

Turkey

Turkey (Photo credit: Mike_fleming)

Happy Christmas all! The good news is the world didn’t end on December 21st as predicted although you would have been forgiven for thinking it was going to end on December 25th instead, judging by the manic, frantic, bulk-buying that was taking place in the supermarkets around me on 24th December. The once-a-year Christmas “preppers” were out in force buying all sorts of things that will remain in the back of some cupboard until they are joined the following Christmas by exactly the same sort of things.  For example, at the last count, I found 4 jars of Cranberry sauce – all unopened and promptly joined by jar number 5 on Boxing Day.

I do sort of get these Christmas “preppers” – I’m as guilty as the next person – but as an aside I don’t really understand preppers for real.  I’m afraid that given the choice between spending months underground in a confined space with all my family eating tinned artichokes and muesli and just going with the rest of mankind in some sort of apocalypse – well, it’s a no brainer for me.

So the day itself has been and gone in a whirlwind of over-indulgence on every level – food, alcohol, presents, spoilt child behaviour (indeed one of my children is still 2 days after the event asking me on an hourly basis whether there are any more presents for him despite a mountain of toys to rival most small town toyshops). I do actually love Christmas and particularly now with children – nothing beats the magic for kids. However, there is no doubt that as the hostess and responsible adult, stress levels are not low.  Christmas Eve was spent tracking Santa online – a bit like tracking a UPS delivery.  The evening was punctuated with constant interruptions such as “he’s in Pakistan”, “he’s in Timbuktu”, “oh no, he’s getting close, he’s in Turkey and I’m not in bed. What happens if he gets here and I’m not asleep?”. Middle child who is nothing if not entirely rational then decided that there was absolutely no point leaving a mince pie for Santa or carrots for the reindeer since having performed an over-complex calculation as to number of presents delivered per second (helped by a rapidly moving “present delivery counter” in the top right screen of the tracking Santa webpage), he decided that there was no time for Santa to stop and eat anything at all. Eldest child seemed more concerned with what sort of alcohol we should leave out for Santa – he reeled off a veritable drinks cabinet – red wine, white wine, vodka, gin, brandy ….all rather concerning for an 8 year old.  Having finally decided on red wine, one small mince pie and a rather mutant carrot, peace reigned.  Letters to Santa were inevitably, given the fact that my two eldest are boys, a series of questions about which football team he supports (Arsenal for the record), which rugby team he likes and whether he found time to watch the recent England/India cricket match.

As for Christmas Day itself, that was the usual frenzy of present opening and a preoccupation with trying to break all world records for most food consumed by a human being in a 24 hour period. As head chef this year, my Christmas Day was a mixture of low-level anxiety that I might have forgotten some vital ingredient – turkey (aside: why do we eat a meat at this most important meal in the calendar which we wouldn’t dream of eating on the other 364 days of the year?), tick; parsnips, tick; bread sauce, tick; Christmas pudding with money inside, tick etc – and a moment of intense smugness and satisfaction when everything finally came together at the same moment and I presented everyone with their own body weight in food.  I am now left, inevitably, with a ton of leftovers from brussel sprouts to stuffing to turkey to gammon to potatoes – all in the fridge waiting for me to do something with.  I suspect that they will still be waiting in a weeks time and I’ll still be talking about the wonderful turkey curry and vegetable soup that I am going to make. I also suspect that the final resting place of these leftovers will almost certainly be the bin which makes me feel terribly guilty.  I’ve always thought it a bit bizarre that we mark this important Christian festival by displaying some of the most gratuitous excesses and unchristian behaviour.

Once Christmas lunch is over, I always find the rest of the day is a bit of a blur as we heave our heavily inflated bodies onto the sofa, refill the wine glass for the umpteenth time (yes, it’s Christmas so just as it is perfectly acceptable to eat a month’s food on one day, so it is perfectly reasonable to match this with a month’s wine too), and watch the Christmas edition of EastEnders (poor old Derek Branning) and that new staple – “Downton Abbey” (now that wasn’t a very festive ending, Mr Fellowes, was it?).

For all its rituals, traditions and eccentricities, Christmas in the end is for children.  This was summed up for me in two very different comments from my children. The first one showing the mindset perfectly of this generation of children : to the tune of Wham’s famous Christmas hit, “Last Christmas” – “Last Christmas, I gave you my heart, but the very next day you sold it on eBay”.  Then secondly, back to the timeless innocence and magic of Christmas when one of my children pronounced ” Mum, this is the best day ever, ever, ever” – so all the preparation, all the cooking, all the angst is worth it just to hear that. Happy Christmas everyone!

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Christmas – the good, the bad and the ugly…

Regular readers of my blog will not be unduly surprised that I have some pretty strong opinions on Christmas – the good, the bad and the downright ugly.  I am very aware that I am tending towards the negatives in my blog so with a most out-of-character burst of Christmas joy, I promise that I shall match every negative with a positive in this piece – that is my gift to you this Christmas. Bah humbug!

Let me start by saying “I love Christmas” – I really do – even the greatest cynics cannot help but get swept up in the magic once a year particularly if you have children and you see it through their eyes.  However, this brings me neatly to my first complaint about Christmas – Christmas, technically speaking, is 25th December give or take a few days either side – it is not, as some people seem to think, a year round festival that starts really gearing up in mid-October.  Christmas should be a magical, exciting time of year and I am unaware of anyone who can realistically maintain a level of frenzied excitement for 3 months.  I do not want to hear piped Christmas music in the shops at the start of November, nor do I want to see constant TV Christmas advertising 10 weeks before I can even contemplate Christmas shopping.  This is not in the spirit of Christmas at all but just a reminder of the truly commercial value that has been placed on Christmas.

What else do I not like?  Tinsel.  I don’t just not like tinsel, I hate tinsel.  It is one of the things that man has invented which is intrinsically pointless, aesthetically very unattractive and downright annoying. You may be thinking that perhaps I have a rather over-developed hatred of what many would see as a rather harmless, benign decoration.  Well, I come to this blog fresh from sewing (yes, sewing..) tinsel onto my daughter’s costume (as a star) for her school Christmas play.  My only advice to you after this painful process is that in much the same way that actors say you should never work with children or

Christmas in the post-War United States

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

animals, mothers should never work with tinsel.  I now have as much tinsel on the floor as I do on the dress – it has “bled” everywhere.  All of this is quite apart from the fact that tinsel just looks horrible – tacky – and the  worst of it is that of course children love it because it is sparkly and they want to drape it everywhere.

That brings me on to my next dislike – one of which I am not proud – my children helping me decorate the house and the tree.  Look, I know it is meant to be a lovely bonding family affair – christmas music and a nice glass of wine for the adults – well, it’s not like that in my house. Yes, there is copious wine and I can stretch to the odd Christmas tune too but there it ends because I have Christmas decoration OCD.  There I said it – I want to put the decorations where I want them to be.  I don’t want my Christmas tree to have all the baubles on one side nor do I want my staircase swathed in miles of tinsel.  I know that I am missing the point and so I do, with gritted teeth, allow my children to decorate as long as I can re-decorate immediately afterwards.

As I mentioned, I have just made my daughter’s school play costume and that has reminded me of another of my Christmas “issues”.  Quite aside from making costumes (which incidentally I loathe doing as my sewing abilities are remedial at best), I have a slight issue with this tendency for school plays to be a mish-mash of nativity and other Christmas (or often totally non-Christmas) ideas.  Take my daughter’s play – which I should quickly say was absolutely wonderful – the story of the Christmas Postman and the nativity.  Magical as it was, I have now got to explain a thousand times to my daughter that the Christmas Postman is not part of the original nativity so she shouldn’t expect to see him with his postbag in his 21st century Royal Mail outfit standing alongside Mary, Joseph and the baby in the manger in every nativity scene we come across over the next few weeks.  Actually, on the subject of nativities, as much as I love a traditional nativity, it is always a reminder of my failure in childhood to ever be cast as Mary – boy did I try over the years but I never made it beyond the host of angels, not even Gabriel.  This has been a source of much disappointment to me over the years and has made me absolutely determined that my daughter at some point will play Mary in a nativity even if I have to create one myself to ensure it.

Enough of my bah-humbugging, I promised to balance the negatives with positives.  So here goes.  I actually love Christmas shopping – choosing the right presents for everyone – I can get quite obsessive about getting it right and I do love the giving of presents when I think I have got it right.  This is in contrast to my husband who complains every Christmas that he is a “net giver”!

I do love listening to the Christmas tunes on the radio (albeit in December rather than October).  For me and I suspect a lot of my generation Band Aid’s “Do they know it’s Christmas” is the ultimate Christmas song guaranteed to get you in the Christmas mood – I still find myself playing the “guess who sings which line” game – Simon Le Bon’s and Boy George’s being the easiest to spot, I find!

Most of all, since I have had children, Christmas has regained so much of its magic for me because their excitement is so infectious and I love passing on all the traditions which we had as children at this time of year.  Every family has their own way of doing things (none as good as your own) and with children around you the magic that is Christmas is tangible once again.  Decorating the house (OCD aside), cooking Christmassy foods (except Christmas pudding which is in my view an aberration), writing letters to Father Christmas, opening presents on Christmas morning (at 5am with kids), singing (badly) the descant to “Hark the Herald Angels” and generally over-eating, over-drinking and laughing lots (with the odd family feud thrown in).  This is Christmas and despite my whinging I wouldn’t be without it (in December, not October, that is).  On a serious note, at this time of year, I am reminded just how lucky I am and my children are and how easy it is to forget the stark contrast between my children’s happy and safe childhoods and those of so many other children around the world.  I am determined to make sure my children realise how lucky they are and once you strip Christmas of all its commercialisation (and tinsel), this is what is important.