Sunday, 7 December 2014

The Christmas Experience

If I am not mistaken, the country is polarising into two camps: those who want the entire experience of Christmastime, with all traditions observed, and all standards kept up; and those who want to opt out and forget it. It's a process that has been gathering momentum for a very long time, but I'm sure it's accelerating. Bad news for the economy, of course.

One good reason for opting out is that the full experience is very expensive, and a lot of people are so squeezed that it just can't be done - not unless one commits financial suicide, loading up the plastic cards till they hit the limit, the balance well beyond any prospect of repayment.

I am talking chiefly about the hospitality one might lay on, and the presents for everyone. This costs, even if the price is willingly paid. It's still very usual for families to have someone to stay over Christmas, possibly grandparents, certainly student children home from university, just to be together at least once in the year. Anyone can see why that would seem important. But what a strain on the household purse and the household forbearance! It's also very usual to throw parties and dinners, at least in my circle it is, and this is fun, but it all requires organisation, deep pockets and a lot of work.

Drop-outs like myself can suit themselves. I'm not at all anti-Christmas. But I soon tire of noise, and eating and drinking to excess. I like to attend congenial gatherings, but after a few hours of lively company I always still hanker after peace and solitude. I really do like my own company. I really do like the drive home. There's a magic to be had, when driving through the countryside after midnight. Just you, the car, the frost and the stars.

It's still not clear where I will be on Christmas Day this year. My default intention is to spend the day on my own, indoors, in the warm, and just do as I please. At most, a wave to the neighbours. No fuss; just a really good home-cooked meal for one. You can do this, when your family is very small and very scattered, and never stays with you, nor you with them, and you have no children.

Christmas Eve is another thing entirely - I'm going to a party. And I can, if I want to, join some friends for a crisp walk on Boxing Day, followed by a pub meal. Now that has its attractions! But I'm not committing myself just yet. After all, supposing I feel an overwhelming urge to take Fiona down to the New Forest? Just for the sake of a fast drive and a nostalgic woodland or heathland stroll? Or perhaps drive to the stone circle at Avebury? Just for the sake of some atmospheric photography? I'm all for adventures like that.

What I do not want to do is get involved with any ritual of swapping presents. A lot of people love to buy little gifts, wrap them up beautifully, label them wittily, and then enjoy the effect when the said gifts are produced. I think they may be indulging themselves in a glittering game of reciprocity, where everyone there does exactly the same Christmassy thing, and all make the right responses and (presumably) feel good. And if everyone really wants this, that's fine. If not, somebody will be embarrassed, and might even feel ambushed. It's not a game I want to play. I don't feel that Christmas cheer and goodwill depend on exchanging a lot of stuff that isn't wanted. I'd rather see the cash spent on more extravagant food and drink - or just sensibly saved.

So my own position on presents is therefore a 'rational' one - or possibly a 'non-material' one - or even a 'non-traditional' one - even though I love all the gorgeous things to eat, and enjoy it when the champagne gets poured out, and we all have a big toast to our own prolonged good health, or damnation to Robespierre, or whatever it might be.

And I do, in a sense, bring a present, even if it's a non-personal one: a carefully-selected bottle of something, and perhaps a box of delectable chox to go with it. Which will both certainly not be cheap and tasteless. So I deny being mean-spirited and stingy. And, as regards presents, I will be making an exception for little girls called Matilda!

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