Let’s be honest, we feel SUCH relief when Christmas day is done. As I did, witnessing my brother, ambitiously embarking on one-too-many mince pies buried beneath an avalanche of brandy butter, give up on the pursuit of Christmas in a puff of exhaustion. I drifted off into a sherry-induced happy sleep, safe in the knowledge that when I wake up it will be none other than Boxing Day. After the pressure of pretending, for the sake of a “good Christmas”, that we are entirely happy in the company of the people we are thrown together with at this time of year, we are relieved when we wake up to find it is Boxing Day. Because, then, you are at the furthest point in time from the next Christmas, a full, unadulterated, grand total of 364 days ahead.
I certainly felt anything but relief when I found myself crammed into a really small car with three other members of the family with varying degrees of enthusiasm at the prospect of going to church. And after negotiating slippery blocks of ice and being thankful that we made it to the church alive, the priest leads the sermon with several references to imminent death, and our state of waiting for it. Any traces of joy in this sermon were thoroughly bashed out when it was followed by the complementary carol “In The Bleak Midwinter”, which even the gruff rotund man near us couldn’t belt out to sound happy.
Of course, every Christmas is almost certain to bring some new revelation with all the trimmings of subsequent explosive emotion. Family secrets come close to murder at the top of favourite choices – 10.9 million viewers of Eastenders on Christmas day can’t be wrong. And if anyone’s Christmas this year was more eventful than the murder of Archie, I will eat my champagne bottle. It is as if such events serve the purpose of overshadowing the unsurprising revelation that Jesus was born to bring goodwill to all mankind. Because, well, that’s just boring, isn’t it?
When Bing Crosby dreamed of a White Christmas, I’m highly doubtful he had the current level of nation-wide devastation in mind. Being cut off from relatives prevented us from re-uniting, one of the reasons we travelled 30-odd hours to get here. The snow was so bitterly cold on my sun-kissed skin that I retreated swiftly away from the idea of walking down two roads to visit my friend. (What did we ever do without facebook? You can catch up AND keep warm. Brilliant). Apart from the workings of the economy being waylaid by snow, more importantly planes and trains, tubes and buses were all cancelled or delayed to a catastrophic scale. Christmas is stressful enough already, but some people were stuck on a plane for 6 hours, or stuck overnight on the Eurostar, or on the plane on Christmas Day going over America that, actually, produced more reports on the heroics of a Dutch film director than danger from the “shoe bomber” himself (The Observer 27.12.2009). Yet even I, resolutely snowed in and avoiding all modes of transport, did not escape the infliction of mild jealousy. Friends were displaying photos of brazen sun-bathing and water fights on the scorching hot beaches on the other side of the world.
Back here to this year’s Christmas in England, though, I am sure I am not the only one to say that it is only after the event (i.e. on Boxing Day), that it becomes funny to reflect how abysmally Christmas actually fails to live up to even the most modest of expectations. Coming home from church and reminders of imminent death, we waited for the Queen’s Speech. Since soldiers in Afghanistan are serving the Queen, I was therefore wondering that if the Queen herself feels the need to reassure us that they are “on the side of good”, has the assurance already failed?
Furthermore, the theatrics of A Christmas Carol (1970, not the one in the cinema, which could be good too), was fun to watch. But, when I thought about it, perhaps the moral of this tale is that it is more fun to seduce poor children with the lure of all the unaffordable toys in the toyshop. We see the faces on the already-contented and close-knit Cratchit family light up, and the rest of the entire town perform “thank you very much” with joyful leaping and dancing. It seems we are thanking Scrooge precisely because his miserly and prudent character pays off, he is then able to throw on such a show at arbitrarily short notice on Christmas day. And, as it was pointed out to me, at this rate he’s sure to be broke next year.
There are predictions that, in the West End, a total of 1.2 million shoppers will spend 120 million pounds over the three days following Christmas Eve. People were camping outside Milton Keynes shopping centre from midnight on Boxing Day morning (The Observer 27.12.2009). However, for all my respect for retail therapy, I am excluded from these predictions only because my bank is holding my money hostage… I wonder whether it is using the boost of my pennies to play some more stock market gambling? So, instead, I found myself completely relying on “Christmas money”, where relatives I hadn’t been in touch with for a year nevertheless brought gold to me like a Wise Man. I could thank Christmas itself for this, however consumer society is more responsible. And I’d rather not bring myself to thank consumer society for small mercies when it caused the human equivalent of little Simbas to fall and injure themselves in the human equivalent of a wildebeest stampede at Miss Selfridges in Manchester. On the contrary, I hope for the day of eternal gratitude when people actually understood the message of joy and hope and love which is “Christmas” (if people want to confine it to 25th December, at least it’s better than nothing…).
As I emerge from a guilt-free lie in I enjoy a special breakfast of mince pies and brandy butter, neither of which, I realise, raise a single eyebrow in the household. And I now no longer need to suppress negativity lest I ruin Christmas. And now when I tell my mother I am writing against Christmas (a week before she was accusing me of heathenism), she simply smiles, inclined to agree.
Why do all the expectations of Christmas always backfire, instead making it the least likely time of year for things to merely stay grounded, let alone overflow with joy and happiness? It seems people, realising the hopelessness of the situation, resort to the pursuit of illusionary bright baubles of food, church, soaps, seeing family, patriotic war talk, musicals, sales, gambling… that remain, just like all the other times in the year, just empty promises we gladly pay for to feel, well, momentarily divine. But on Boxing Day, this is all over, and there is hope. Are we really doomed to be dependent on such promises? Or is there a chance for people to move on, set the world right, and stop letting themselves be distracted by empty seductions?