Stop aspiring to someone else's fantasy – and have a recipe for dishwasher vodka to hand
Given the terrible shortage of advice about Christmas, let me gift you my tips. Gift as a verb? Jesus, it's already horrible, isn't it? Sorry, Jesus.
Your attitude to it all will depend on what happened to you as a child. If your memories are miserable, you will either spiral into despair or overcompensate madly. My mum used to serve the dinner incredibly early at 12.30 – so basically, breakfast – and then call us a "gang of gannets" for eating it while she sat smoking. So tears and tinsel. We all know the true meaning of Christmas. And remake it despite ourselves. To me, oscillating wildly between begrudging Grinch and then putting up as many fairy lights as humanly possible just seems normal.
I have made several bids to escape Christmas in captivity. When people say, "Oh, but it wouldn't be the same somewhere exotic", I can go a bit Saatchi. It "not being the same" is precisely the point. Which is why you always want to go and children don't – as they are essentially conservative. "The worst Christmas" ever was when I took them to Bethlehem on Christmas Day; coming up a close second was the Killing Fields in Cambodia on Boxing Day. But I got my points in with the full Lapland/Santa thing. The most expensive holiday ever. You spend most of the time in horrible padded ski suits, the food is awful and they can't even guarantee the Northern Lights. For that money, they should.
Eating and drinking
If I must, but the insanity of competing celeb chefs trying to jazz up a roast dinner, organically sourced from whatever supermarket they have a deal with, is ever more nuts. How many times do we need to be told to make sprouts more interesting? What about not having them? Is that interesting enough? Ditto: turkey, parsnips, all of it. Though the year I nuked two ducks in an oven with no settings was a disaster. Still, no one died. Except the ducks, obviously.
Giving it up
Instead of moaning about it all, just hand it over to someone else. Lately, my eldest daughters and friends took over the cooking. They easily produced a great meal without histrionics. Imagine! I was disempowered from the stressed-out "good mother" role and had nothing to complain about. Devastating.
1) Crackers What is in a luxury cracker that anyone actually ever wants? Wow, a pair of tweezers that you appear to have paid a tenner for.
2) Smelly candles You want things to smell nice? Cook nice things. Do some lines of cinnamon. Air fresheners for the well-heeled now come in posh boxes that contain nothing but a smelly candle for £50. Insane.
3) Christmas jumpers Ho ho ho. Stupid, not ironic. The naff Xmas jumper used to be something well meant that people had to wear after Christmas, not buy before it.
1) Fairy lights.
3) Stockings. If you give good stocking, nothing else matters.
As with Christmas jumpers, nativity plays are now back with retro vengeance. We may be increasingly secular but parents want proper nativity plays so, as ever, state schools mimic the private ones. Over the years I have sat through many a "culturally sensitive" play with no mention of Jesus at all. Highlights have included An Emu up a Gum Tree (Australian supply teachers); a bizarre Sleeping Beauty that featured children dressed as Eric Cantona and Liam Gallagher; a dire Kwanzaa where the children were singing in that well-known language "African"; and a great Anansi the Sky God, a Ghanaian legend. But I have been spiritually laissez-faire ever since my eldest first went to school and told me that they prayed to Bob every morning. "You mean God," I said. But when I went into assembly there, above the stage, was a huge picture of Bob. Marley.
He is just annoying. Yes, a bearded weirdy takes the credit for all the work of oppressed people like me! So every year I enjoy the bad Santa stories that feature rioting and drunkenness – although we can rarely compete with the Americans, eg, Santa publicly having a handjob in a shop window. No, we just have people like Mike Daviot who was sacked in Edinburgh because: "He didn't get on with anyone – even the elves. He was very brusque with the children and their parents and would interrupt children saying: 'I'm talking now.'" Respect!
Whatever happened to dropping in for a drink and a mince pie? Aspiration takes over so we must all eat bizarre mini-food for hours. The most commonly asked question of the average canape is: "What is it?" No one asks this of crisps or cheese straws. I rest my case.
Make it up as you go along
Making stuff yourself. Poor people don't make stuff because it's cheaper to buy it ready-made. This applies to Christmas decorations as much as food. No one needs a sub-aristo to tell them how to paint a twig. All the energy spent trying to recreate a Victorian Christmas is daft. Chin up and if all else fails the one Christmas recipe you need is dishwasher vodka. You can find this on Mumsnet. The best thing is to spend time with those who enjoy it and I am grateful to have that. But, as with much in life, there is no need to act out someone else's fantasy. Just find your own. Tradition is there to be tampered with.
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