Christmas…the season of unalloyed joy and festive fervour…so why do I find myself huddled shakily over the steering wheel in the bowels of a shopping centre the size of a small city? (Clearly it’s not called Shoppingtown for nothing). Well for a start I managed to find a park, but that took so much energy I’m not sure I have the fortitude to launch myself on the dazzling delights of decadence. What is wrong with me? Everyone else loves it… and what’s not to love? As you might have imagined I’m about to tell you. So in synergy with that famous song of the season I’m offering you the twelve “nays” of Christmas, (with a few “yays” added in the interest of balance):
(1) Those Christmas newsletters!. Finding out that your daughter is studying at the Sorbonne, and your son has won the Nobel Prize, is not helping. Neither is the news of your world trip, during which you sailed a yacht round the Med, had arvo tea with the Obamas, and built a school in an African village. That doesn’t mean I won’t be cobbling together my usual airbrushed version of life with the Oakleys. This is a rant, so don’t expect consistency.
(2) The gifts! How many times to we unwrap a parcel of disappointment? The queues at the refunds desk on Boxing Day attest to that. One memorable year our son Tom, expecting some trendy piece of kit from his sister in London, had to command all his acting ability to look delighted at receiving a toilet in Africa. Actually, it turned out to be the gift that kept on giving, because he was able to recycle it in his comedy routine, telling the audience he kept getting phone calls from someone in The Gambia asking him kindly to put the seat down.
(3) The Goop Gift Guide! I don’t mean to single you out but it’s too tempting because you have gathered in one supremely tasteful place, all the snobberies and insecurities triggered by this time of year. Is my gift good enough? Does it demonstrate my generosity/good taste/utter coolness? Let’s see…would she like the gold safety pin for $1,995? Or maybe Le Cut Off Short in Blanc (!) at $185…mmm, can’t afford that but wait, there’s the Jasmine Candle for Inner Light and Joy at a mere $68!
Sorry, Gwynneth, I may have to consciously uncouple from your blog even though I’ve had to split an infinitive to get there. But as an antidote, you can check out the Mulberry Christmas 2014 ad and have a larf about it all.
(4) It’s all about the kids! Well if that’s the raison d’etre for the Lalaloopsy Babies Daiper Surprise Blossom Flowerpot Doll, whose claim to fame is that she “magically poops charms,” which can be gathered on a bracelet, and which retails for a mere $79.99, surely we are at the end of civilization as we know it. And what’s the message for young girls…changing nappies will offer you all sorts of surprises? Well, I can attest to that, but hang them on my wrist? I don’t think so. But actually my inner Scrooge will never destroy the childhood magic, the sparkly lights, the alluring packages, the pitch of excitement that as adults we can never access again except vicariously through the kids’ sense of wonder.
(5) Carols in October! We wish you a Merry Christmas! Nice try, but actually, you don’t, you just wish to prolong buying frenzy season by a couple of months, and make us so sick of the tunes, we’ll buy anything just to get out of there. It’s just fortunate that these carols have such beautiful melodies, that communities world-wide from St Martin in the Fields to the Noosa Chorale (shameless promotion…I’ve just joined!)* revisit them every year, and really do bring Joy to the World.
(6) Tree lights! How many marriages have foundered while trying to locate the rogue bulb that renders all the others useless? But hey, what a magical glow they spread through the house when they go on…and off…and on…and off. (7) Santa! Sorry, old geezer in red suit doesn’t do it for me…never has. (8) Hi-jacking a Christian festival in order to make a buck! Not sure Jesus would have been pestering Mary and Joseph for the latest edition of Grand Theft Auto. But the same spirit inspires people to serve Christmas dinner at a homeless shelter, or sing Silent Night and play football in No Man’s Land. Clearly this is complicated.
(9) Loneliness audit! Like it or not, Christmas is when we’re all expected to be able to display what we’ve gathered in our lives. Perfect strangers will feel free to interrogate us, “What are you doing for Christmas?” All very well to say it’s just another day but no one asks you in the supermarket what you’re doing next Thursday unless it’s Christmas. That’s what I’d call an unintended consequence: when a cheery greeting make you feel like crap.
(10) Family! And while we’re on a downer, we should acknowledge that Christmas is often a time of increased family tensions, sometimes with tragic consequences. If you feel un-Christmassy because you want to murder Great Uncle Harold, seems you’re not alone. The explosive combination of old wounds, alcohol and disappointment sees a seasonal spike in family violence every year. But for most of us the national excuse to gather in family groups creates far more joy than sorrow. For most families, the worst thing that happens is a mad dash on Christmas Day from in-laws to out-laws, making sure that all the Nanas and Grandpas and second cousins aren’t left out. This can involve consuming a year’s food in one day, but at least you got to pull a cracker with Great Aunt Gertie, which brings me to:
(11) The food! So much of it! And for someone with my culinary ineptitude, so much pressure! Sebastian Barry said that motherhood makes heroes out of women*, but I reckon producing all that Christmas food comes a close second. And don’t get me started on the booze. Seriously, don’t or I’ll forget to turn the oven on…again. (12) The telly! The term Christmas Special seems an oxymoron to me. Exactly what is so special about watching the toffs of Downton Abbey scoffing peacocks tongues in aspic, courtesy of their hordes of below stairs slaves, while I’m busy trying to produce something remotely edible for my lot? The last thing I need is Lord and Lady Creepy-Crawley patronising the peasants, or Lady Mary making my best frock look dowdy! But later, back at Oakley Towers around five o’clock …the washing up is stowed, dad is snoring gently, supper is sorted (for the next three weeks!) Kids are bickering amiably amid a mountain of toys. Oh all right, just one more slice of Christmas cake and it’s time to watch Jimmy Stuart bumble his decent way through a cruel world to discover It’s a Wonderful Life. And for any of us lucky enough to be enclosed in a charmed circle of love, shelter and food …it really is.
*If you’re in the area, make sure you come along to the Noosa Chorale’s Christmas Wassail Sat 20th and Sun 21st December at 7.30. You’ll hear Vaughn Williams’ Fantasia, lots of your favourite carols, and the remarkable young cellist Louise King, while you make merry with mince pies, a cheese platter and a few trips to the bar. Bookings: http://www.thej.com.au
*Sebastian Barry A Long, Long Way
*Cartoon drawn by Fran and the rights paid for at cartoonstock.com by moi!