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?

Advertisements

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!