Okay, so moaning about frenzied shopping and family fallouts is as integral to Christmas as turkey and tinsel and, for some, that’s part of the fun. But if the pain of Christmas surpasses your pleasure, I’ll let you into a secret: unless you have young children, or frail parents to whom you haven’t yet paid your dues – in which case, bookmark this post for when you’re free to prioritise yourself – you’re not obliged to join in. Okay, it can be tough to go against expectations, and it might require some negotiation with your nearest and dearest, but isn’t life too short to stick to the familiar, if the familiar isn’t what you want?
Who wouldn’t relish being gifted an attractively packaged collection of quality chocolates, socks or soaps? But twenty? Twelve? Even two might be excessive if you happen to confuse the sweetmeats with the soaps. You’re an adult, with your own money: if there was something you genuinely wanted, wouldn’t you have bought it by now? Surely you know that Christmas is a not-so-clandestine capitalist conspiracy. The same logic for giving as receiving, unless you gift homemade edibles with no expectation of reciprocation, in which case let me give you my address.
Oh, the joy of rolling from the pub to midnight mass, nipping out at half-time to squat behind a gravestone because you’ve consumed more beer than your bladder can hold. That’s all very well in adolescence, but if you find you can’t face the festivities sober, perhaps the festivities are at fault. Can you genuinely say your ideal day is one spent in an alcoholic blur?
Do you treasure the memory of a special Christmas moment? Opening a stocking; a kiss under the mistletoe; rolling from the pub to midnight mass (see under Alcohol); barbecued fish on a tropical beach. Leave them in their place as memories; don’t try to recreate them every year. Spoiler alert: Santa is just make-believe, and magic a capitalist conspiracy to keep the masses in their place. If you go teary-eyed at the latest supermarket TV advert, have you forgotten that the word consumer is not a synonym for human being? Happiness can elude us if we go looking for it; often, the truly special moments are those that take us by surprise.
Isn’t there something 1950s perfect nuclear family about the nation(s) sitting down simultaneously to eat the same home-cooked meal? If a simple dish of rice and lentils strikes you as scarily subversive, perhaps it’s time to reconnect with your rebellious youth.
If you’re researching a scene for your novel then, by all means, get stuck in there with your notebook and recording device. But don’t expect to escape unscathed once those buried rivalries surface. Better still, leave your travelling for when the roads are quieter and relationships less intense.
More people go to the shops on the day after Christmas than to church on the day itself. (No, I didn’t bother to check my facts on this one, but it’s probably true.) Unless getting footsore, jostled and dehydrated because you can’t bear to queue an hour for a cup of overpriced coffee, avoid it. Even if you bag a bargain, you’ve spent money on stuff you don’t need. But don’t think you’ll be better off engaging in that other traditional Boxing Day activity, the country walk, because everyone else who isn’t at the shops will be there too. Avoid the traffic and the crowds, and stay at home with a book. (Perhaps even one of mine, especially as, never mind the contents, they’re a pleasure to touch!) If you’ve taken my advice, and said no to the presents, all-day-alcohol, magic and meal, you’ll have had time for your walk on Christmas Day when you can have the hills almost to yourself.
Being compelled to buy a gift for someone whose name you’ve drawn from a hat smacks of workplace bullying, but it’s worth thinking carefully about exercising your veto. Often taken most seriously by the least powerful in the office, don’t think you can get away with irreverence if you are one of the higher-ups. Can you risk an important file going missing ten minutes before a crucial meeting?
If you do decide to play along, don’t use it as an opportunity to recycle the bath salts you “won” at the summer-fair tombola: you can count on someone to remember it was you. Instead, put on an Oscar-worthy performance of enthusiasm and parcel up a bundle of your own (authored) books. If you don’t think you can hit the right level of feigned amazement when they’re unwrapped, put together a package of books penned by your friends, if you still have any after following my advice!
Which bits of Christmas do you say no to? Do you have any advice for those still stuck with yes?
From here to graffiti, how do I manage that? I could have defaced a cosy-Christmas billboard, if a certain unlikely character hadn’t made it into my head. Must be because I’ve booked myself in for a singalong Messiah next weekend! Sometimes, I’m not bothered where the inspiration comes from, as long as it comes.
He had all the signs of seasonal affective disorder. “But I should be above all that.”
Gabriel was sympathetic. “God Almighty, no-one’s immune.”
“Avarice, gluttony, debauchery. That was never in my plan.”
“Then tell them!”
“How? No-one listens to me anymore.”
“You need to forge a stronger connection.”
“Christ, I can’t send my boy again. He still suffers flashbacks two millennia on.”
“Remember Moses, and the ten commandments?”
“Stone tablets? Everything’s electronic now.”
“Not entirely.” Gabriel handed Him a can of spray paint. “Jesus’ll love this.”
And so we awoke to graffiti on Christmas morning: NOT IN MY NAME!