‘IT’S CHRISTMAS!!’ shouted those recurrent harbingers of the festive season, 70s glam rock band, Slade. Apparently, it’s also ‘the most wonderful time of the year’ or so sang Andy Williams. It’s a period synonymous with family, the scent of cinnamon, pine trees and tables laden with sweet treats.
At least it is if you live in the imagined version that exists only in the collective mind of Hollywood and the eponymous Hallmark ‘true movies’. Picture it in your mind’s eye: The massive ‘McMansion’, the 12ft Christmas tree in the lobby bathed in the soft winter light of an early afternoon, close to the solstice. Outside is a light dusting of pure, white, virginal snow that lies delicately and gently on every surface, twinkling with the coloured reflected light from the meticulously placed outdoor decorations in the garden.
The residents of this abode are the perfect, beautiful family, with ivory teeth that resemble piano keys and they gaze at each other with sincere familial love shining in their sparkling eyes as they cuddle through their chunky knit novelty jumpers.
On Christmas Day, the massive table in the dining room is laden with home-cooked delights. The impossibly large Turkey at the top end of the table is about to be carved by the paterfamilias surrounded by an assortment of plump, seasonal vegetables. No one has any addiction issues, is over or underweight. No one is ill through stress (a previously frequent occurrence in my own family). No one’s in the hospital. No one appears to be stressed out. Despite the occasional (often comedic) mishap, everything is saccharine perfect.
Until my early 20s, this was my primary idea of Christmas; wholly fabricated perfection. Glossy. Hollywood. corporate. Overwhelmingly American and ultimately impossible to achieve; even for those with the time, budget and personal chefs at their disposal. Every year, I felt slightly disappointed for reasons that I couldn’t quite articulate at the time, that I, and my family didn’t match this lofty ideal.
So deeply ingrained was this false image that it took me years to break out from it. As a child, I had obviously imbibed from the cup of false Christmases past through the years. Movies such as Miracle on 34th Street, The Santa Clause and even Home Alone are heart-warming as an adult, but they projected such a false image that it skewed my perception of what Christmas ought to be and not what it should be.
And much like Scrooge throwing open the shutters on Christmas Day, I have enjoyed Christmas even more since the blinkers came off.
Forget the false Christmas.
And it is possible to enjoy Christmas without the mental stress of attempting to achieve the ‘perfect’ day. You can still give gifts (I once tried to have an ethical Christmas, where I gave loved ones fridge magnets with a donation to Oxfam. They were not impressed) without getting into debt. You don’t necessarily have to get all your cousins’ offspring presents. I’m sure they have enough as it is.
Just bring it down a few notches and inject a dose of realism. Don’t listen to Hollywood, corporations and DFS (Do you really need a new sofa in time for Christmas? Would your grandparents really judge you for not having this?)
Your loved ones are imperfect. So are you. On Christmas day just embrace it, have fun and make memories. Your mum and auntie might have too much to drink. Your gran might have drained a little bit too much ‘blue nun’ from her wine glass. Your uncle might be cracking ‘jokes’ at the dinner table like he’s on the stage at the London Palladium. Embrace it all in its semi-unplanned, messy glory.
A few years ago, I parted with a friend in Glasgow and he accidentally told me to ‘Have a Christmas’. And perhaps that’s enough. Just have a Christmas. It doesn’t have to be the perfect Christmas, and frankly, it won’t be; something will go wrong even if you put yourself under unsustainable mental stress and pressure on what should otherwise be a pleasant day.
And, with that, dear reader, I would like to wish you a Christmas and a New Year.