Full of Festive Spirit…

It’s been quite a while since I wrote anything in my blog but it would appear that a couple of people (and I mean literally only a couple) have missed my whinging so always ready to oblige, I thought I would start writing a bit again.

Where to start after so much time apart…well, it’s Christmas so why not start there? First off, let me state for the record that I actually do love Christmas – mostly.  I’m sure I’ve written about some of this before – I am nothing if not consistent in my whinging.  However, here goes – my top Christmas gripes.

– Visiting Santa’s Grotto: am I the only one who goes in “to see Santa” (with my children I might add before you think that I have made some sort of weird regression to childhood) and finds it the most excruciatingly awkward few minutes?  Poor Santa has to have the same banal conversation with each and every child about their behaviour this year (why bother asking – it seems patently obvious that the majority of children if presents were given on the basis of behaviour would receive nada) and what they want for Christmas.  In my experience, children seem to go mute at this point, either staring rather unnervingly at Santa (trying to guess who it is beneath that facial hair that is slowly sliding down his chin) or looking downwards and scuffing their shoes through the mountains of fake snow on the floor (#nightmarecleaningupjob).  It is left to me to have this insanely cheery chat with the big man about how wonderfully behaved my kids have been and how much they deserve wildly over-expensive tat for Christmas (all the time keeping my fingers crossed behind my back to counter the blatant lies I am telling).  Meanwhile the real reason we are all there is delayed interminably – the presents, Santa – hand them over and we can all move on.

– Sexy santa outfits: I just don’t get these at all – it seems so wrong on so many levels.  Santa is traditionally a man, so why do all sexy santa outfits consist of skin tight mini skirts clearly more suited to the female form?  Presumably because there is no woman alive who in her right mind would find a man dressed in a red jumpsuit, trimmed with white cotton wool and topped off with a faux white beard even remotely sexy.  Anyway, Santa is a kid-friendly concept so sexy santa suits just seem plain wrong.  Sexualising Santa is at best confusing, at worst rather creepy.

– Hats in crackers:  OK, I am prepared to accept the part that crackers play in Christmas – I mean who doesn’t desperately want one of those little screwdriver sets or irritating puzzles with rings you have to separate?  Let’s face it, Christmas wouldn’t be the same without an exchange of appalling jokes and general dissing of those whose job it is to write those jokes for the other 364 days of the year.  But the hats… no need, no purpose, don’t fit and no-one looks good in them. Yet everyone feels obliged whether it be the school parents dinner, the office party or whatever to put their ill-fitting paper hats on their heads as if somehow this is a sign to others that they are having a great time and “entering into the spirit”.  Let’s ditch the hats, people – no-one wants to wear them, end of.

– Fairy lights:  I love fairy lights.  Well, I love fairy lights of the mostly white variety but I am able to tolerate coloured lights.  However it seems that every year the nation’s obsession with fairy lights is growing inexorably. When I was young, we put lights on the tree – the end.  Now, we are expected to put lights absolutely everywhere – up impossible-to-climb trees, intricately wound around staircases, in windows, round doors, along fireplaces, even in big glass vases (some sort of temporary pseudo-art installation).  It is as if we are all in some sort of mad competition to put up as many million lights as we humanly can in the time available, starting in mid-November if that is the only way to beat our neighbours and friends.  What puzzles me is why we have suddenly gone fairy light-tastic – it’s not as if electricity/light is a new concept.  Am I missing something?

– Writing Christmas cards: every year I promise myself that this is the last year I write Christmas cards – not only does it give me repetitive strain injury in my right hand for the rest of the festive season but increasingly in the age of email and multimedia it seems a fairly pointless task.  Then it happens…the cards start to arrive through the door from other people and the guilt sets in.  Then the fear sets in that if you don’t send any cards then you won’t receive any next year yourself.  The guilt and fear grows until I find myself sitting down and madly scribbling festive wishes to people I either never see (and quite possibly won’t ever again) or equally people I see almost on a daily basis (for whom a simple “Happy Christmas” would suffice).  One year I shall be brave enough to resist the overwhelming urge to write cards – in the meantime, if you haven’t received one from me, then you can assume you are off my Christmas card list or your surname is at the end of the alphabet and I haven’t got there yet (and I have to admit might possibly never get there).

– Endless bloody festive editions of TV shows.  I can’t think of one single TV show that is improved by the addition of copious amounts of tinsel (my personal pet hate), wrapped up cardboard boxes to look like presents, TV hosts wearing Christmas jumpers and/or santa hats and nudge,nudge..endless references to “balls’.  Why does every show have to have a Christmas edition?  You are more likely to find me watching “Homeland” or any other programme where the chance of any reference to Christmas is negligible.  All those shows do along with adverts with over-decorated houses, roaring log fires and mountains of food on the table is to make you feel that everyone is having more fun than you (and has more fairy lights than you).

There you go, I feel much better now I’ve got that lot off my chest. Now I’ve shared my grievances, I shall try very hard to look at Christmas through the eyes of my children – remember how magical Christmas was when you were a child? Anyway, I’ve got to go as I’ve got at least six more sets of fairy lights to hang up this evening.

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Christmas Complex

English: A Christmas Tree at Home

English: A Christmas Tree at Home (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s that time of year again – Christmas – which seems to come round faster every year.  Is this perhaps yet another sign of ageing?  I think not, more a reflection of the fact that with each year the Christmas season creeps forward by a day or so as the shops start blaring Slade et al and shoving tinsel in our faces from early September.

Let’s get one thing straight – I love Christmas. Nothing can transport you more readily back to childhood than the magic of Christmas. Only the most miserable of individuals can fail to be swept up to some degree into the jollity and frivolity of this season.  However, it is not without its complications and of course it will come as no surprise to you my observations.

The advent calendar.  Or in my house, plural. When I was a child an advent calendar was a very simple piece of card which depicted a traditional nativity scene (yes, kids – “nativity” – the central word for Christmas in case you had forgotten) and some badly perforated windows to be opened each day where you would find some random supposedly Christmassy object – always a robin and a bell and often a cat (why a cat?).  The biggest challenge that the advent calendar presented in those days was opening a window without causing the other windows either side to open inadvertently.

The biggest challenge nowadays is actually to find an advent calendar depicting a traditional nativity scene rather than some bizarre mixed up Christmas scene with Santa, Jesus, a snowman and some carol singers vying for centre stage.  This year my children have got two calendars each – one traditional nativity scene which I hope will serve as some small reminder of what advent actually is and one chocolate calendar.  I would cheerfully throttle the person/people who thought putting chocolates in an advent calendar was a good idea.  It is hard enough to persuade my children to brush their teeth in the morning without all my efforts being wasted on a stale chocolate which has probably been sitting behind that calendar window for most of 2013.  All pretences of the meaning of advent also go out of the metaphorical window when it comes to chocolate advent calendars.  My daughter’s chocolate calendar is a “Hello Kitty” calendar – I am not even going to bother to pretend to her that “Hello Kitty” has got the faintest association with advent or indeed Christmas.

As usual in our family, the school nativity play has not been without its fraught moments.  My daughter, like every other girl in her class, was completely convinced she had landed the part of Mary.  I could only watch on knowing that never making Mary is one of the burdens you have to carry with you for the rest of your life.  To be fair, I didn’t even get close – I didn’t even make head angel. Predictably my daughter’s confidence that she had secured the role was misguided and she is a King.  This is not good news – not only has she not made Mary, but she is playing a “boy” part so no tinsel, sparkles, wings etc. For me there is a silver lining however, as I am not expected to provide a King costume as apparently the school have already got one.  Although I am not going to pretend that in the past I have slaved over costumes for school plays – I find that the big supermarkets do a great budget version of almost any character you could wish for and who cares that all around the country in every school nativity, the shepherds are wearing exactly the same £7.99 nylon, highly flammable, shepherd’s tunic and carrying a rather unusual plastic crook?

My next complication with Christmas is my middle son’s obsession with the technicalities of Father Christmas’s itinerary over the festive period.  It is without doubt very good for his mental maths but not very good for my sanity that daily, soon to be hourly, he is calculating FC’s speed per hour, houses visited per minute etc and inevitably always concluding its impossibility and then requiring some sort of rational explanation from me.  This is very very tiring. This is coupled with his new line of attack: he will say “So and So got an X-box from Father Christmas last year, how come I got a satsuma?”.  Explain that one.  How I would love to shout at So and So’s parents and tell them how hard they are making it for the rest of us but also I would love to tell my son how lucky he is that Father Christmas comes at all as there are millions of children around the world whom he won’t visit.  Only, of course, I can’t do that without ruining the magic of FC for him.

One thing that I am sure is a sign of ageing is my new obsession with completing my Christmas shopping weeks before the big day.  This year I am feeling smugger than ever (not because I have finished the shopping) but because I have yet to set foot in a shop – I have done it all online. Christmas shopping brings out the utter worst in people.  Normally sane and rational people become persons possessed as, list in hand, they hunt down their targets with a single-mindedness not seen at any other time of year.  All this is done to a backdrop of over-heated shops churning out Wham!, Slade, Shakin’ Stevens and friends on an interminable loop, nodding Santas saying “Ho! Ho! Ho!”, reindeers with flashing antlers and harried shop assistants with tinsel in their hair – and this is mid-October.  I am sure it must contravene some sort of human rights law to have to wear tinsel (which incidentally I absolutely hate) in your hair for a period of 2 months or more.  No, shopping in shops is no longer for me, I am an internet Christmas shopper.  One word of warning, make sure you shop in the morning with a cup of tea rather than in the evening with a glass (bottle) of wine – you can get rather carried away with the latter in your hand.

With that in mind, it is time for me to do some more Christmas shopping online now.  I’ve got to buy presents for the school teachers.  I am not sure whether this year I shall be contributing to what I call the candle economy – a booming industry in which 20 children in a class give their teachers a candle so that said teacher ends up with enough candles to open a chandlery (in its original meaning) and then re-distributes the candles to others as presents through the rest of the year before the whole cycle starts again.   I am not knocking it – everyone loves a candle and you can never have enough candles, can you?

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.