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?

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January Blues – not me!

January seems to be a universally hated month which has always seemed a bit unfair for those whose birthdays fall in this month.  Not only do they have to deal with the joint present for Christmas and Birthday thing but their birthday celebrations are always a bit of a damp squib since most people are neither drinking nor eating. Well, I wish to redress the balance – I like January – a bit left field I know but that’s me, glass half full.  So banish those January blues and here are ten good reasons to like January (as far as I am concerned).

1. The children are back at school – this is far and away the best thing about January for me.  Having suffered the school holidays in shocking weather where not even the most insane mother would force her children outside, I have to admit that, although I love my children dearly, I was literally counting the minutes until my children became someone else’s responsibility between 9am and 3.30pm.  Since their return to school a couple of days ago, I have finished every single cup of tea I have made for myself (first time since mid-December) and I have managed to speak on the phone without conducting a parallel conversation with one or other child.  These are good things.

2. Christmas is over for another year – I know this sounds a bit bah humbug but it’s true – Christmas is a right palava and yes, there are some wonderful bits especially with young children but there are also some really irritating bits…

3. …which brings me onto “tinsel” – regular readers will know that I am allergic to tinsel – I hate the way it looks, the way it feels, the way it is omnipresent in the festive season and I actually hate the sound of the word, it sounds, as it is, tacky.

4.You can take the jumper that Aunt Maud gave you back to the shops and buy twice as much thanks to the sales.  I love a bargain – I really love a bargain and nothing makes me happier than exchanging something I don’t like for twice as many things that I do like.

5. It is perfectly acceptable not to entertain, not to cook for anyone and if you are as bold/odd as to invite people round in January, it is perfectly acceptable to have a take-away (maybe not pizza, but the local Indian or Thai restaurant fits the bill). In January I no longer have to pretend to be the offspring of Delia Smith, Nigella, Herman Blumenthal or whoever the chef du jour is.

6. It’s nice to do nothing – since I don’t fall into the camp of people insane enough to invite others around in January, I get to spend my evenings in January either watching the boxsets I got for Christmas or watching strangely fascinating “real-life” TV programmes that I wouldn’t go near at any other time of year.

7.The supermarkets are empty – the Christmas “Preppers” have gone and it is actually possible to pop to the shops for a pint of milk without running headlong into the panic-buying marauding masses who make

1024x768 Tree  - January 2012

1024×768 Tree – January (Photo credit: iluvgadgets)

buying even the simplest thing a herculean effort.

8. My credit card bill for January is the lowest of the year. January is the month when my credit card cools down after an extended period of overheating and just at the moment when it is about to spontaneously combust, it is allowed its “day of rest” – January.  If there is such a thing, I can say that January’s credit card bill is my favourite bill of the year.

9. The days are getting longer.  Always one to look on the bright side, we are on the way to summer – a long way off admittedly, but we are now the right side of the end of the year.  The odd snowdrop lifts the spirits further still. Am I pushing the point a bit…?

10. Everyone else in on a diet or having a no drinking alcohol month except me. Ergo they are miserable and however miserable they are, I am less miserable by virtue of the fact that I am still eating and still drinking. Cheers!

So there you have it, ten reasons to be joyful in January.  Perhaps I’ve stretched the point a bit but it’s not all bad and it’s only 31 days (744 hours for those who are counting) and as of today we are a third of the way through. Happy New Year all.

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.