I have very fond memories of the family Christmases of my youth, which include making an entire nativity set out of mince-pie cases in a rare moment of Blue Peter-esque aptitude for craft. From when I was about 10 or 11 we spent 10 days in a centrally heated bungalow on a campsite in St Ives, Cornwall. The view was gorgeous, the weather was actually fairly mild for the time of year, and I was happy enough trotting along to the local church for the seasonal crop of services and carol singing.
I know of some adults who seem to spend inordinate amounts of time and money trying to re-create the Yuletide experiences they had as children. They then breaking down hysterically because they can’t get the bread sauce the way their Mum made it, or because their own little darlings appear to have turned into materialistic little monsters who would rather play with their new computer games than gather round a tree and sing God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.
So I count myself as fortunate that I haven’t got that inclination to turn the clock back. While my childhood Christmas memories are genuinely happy, I am delighted that they are just that: memories. My interests and values now are radically different from what they were as a child. I rather suspect that 12-year-old me would have been quite disapproving and slightly scared of godless-heathen-30-year-old me. That’s fine. 12-year-old me is in the past, and she’s staying there.
The watershed moment when I realised that as an adult I could create my own kind of Christmas was in 2002. Terry and I had been together for just under 2 years, and we were living together in a shared house with 3 other women, all of whom had gone home to their families for the holiday. I had a Saturday job at F.Hinds the jewellers, which expanded into a brief period of full-time work in the run-up to Christmas. By the time the shop closed at 6pm on December 24th I was shattered. I got back to our house to find Terry had made me a delicious dinner, opened a bottle of wine, and downloaded a new episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. (He downloaded the whole series for me via an illicit FTP server using a dial-up internet connection overnight when no one else was using the phone. That’s when you know it’s true love.)
The following day we cooked frozen pizza, ate it off paper plates, drank Cava straight out of the bottle & chucked the whole lot into a bin liner afterwards. No mess, no fuss, no washing up & no family. It was the best Christmas ever. I remember lounging back on the sofa and thinking about how everything I’d ever been told about ‘the true meaning of Christmas’ was wrong, or at least wrong for me. As an atheist I could happily ignore all the religious overtones. My parents very sensibly continued their tradition of going on holiday for the period, so I had no filial obligations to fulfil. As a penniless student I couldn’t have pulled off a massive supermarket-advert extravaganza even if I had wanted to, which I most certainly didn’t. I got to spend a few days in a blissful state of slovenliness with no pressure to mark the time of year with any particular sense of occasion. It was wonderful.
2012 marks 10 years since this great epiphany, no pun intended, and our Christmases are still pretty low-key. To the casual observer it would look like we barely observe the festival at all. In fact we have taken to referring to December 25th as Doctor Who day for obvious reasons. But I’m not bah-humbugging – this is one of my favourite times of year. The university where I work is closed so I get 11 days off. It gets dark at 3.30 in the afternoon which is perfect for watching films on the projector. In spite of yearly reminders about the dangers of binge-drinking, supermarkets will sell bottles of fizzy pink wine and off-brand Irish Cream Liqueurs for next to nothing. We’ll be going to see 9 Lessons and Carols for Godless people, which is fabulous, and we will once again try and fail to get past the first 3 episodes of The Wire.
Perhaps some people hate Christmas because they feel the Northern Hemisphere is mocking them with its snow-dusted images of nuclear families enjoying too much food. Perhaps some people hate Christmas because they think Tim Minchin is mocking them on behalf of the Southern Hemisphere.
If that’s the case then you have my sympathies, but I don’t hate Christmas at all.
10 years ago I realised Humpty Dumpty style that I could define Christmas to mean whatever I wanted it to mean. So that’s what I’ll be celebrating this year.