The Eighth Blog of Christmas: Christmas Day

christmas day pud

From a couple of years ago: debating the pudding choices, while my sister revels in the glory of it all.

When I was younger, the night before Christmas Day would transform me into a full blown insomniac. I would go to bed nice and early on Christmas Eve, only to wake up around 3 AM and see the stocking at the end of my bed and find myself giddy with anticipation at the day ahead. One year, too excited to even think about sleeping again, I filled the time with reading books- that old form of entertainment before we had iPods, iPads and Kindles- until 7 AM where I could finally justify running in to my parent’s room to reap the rewards of the day.

Now, my Christmas Eve is so jam packed that I never have any trouble getting a good night’s kip, but we all still manage to get up in the late morning to open our presents together. My Nan stays round, so there are five of us eagerly opening our stockings to see what Father Christmas has bought us each year, before we spend the morning enjoying our new gifts. It’s never Christmas without a new pair of socks and a toothbrush, and as usual he didn’t disappoint. Even though I’m now twenty two, I could never bear the idea of just giving money to my family; it just doesn’t compare to the moment of opening presents together.

I only ever have a slice of toast for breakfast, as I need to save room for the main attraction. At one, it’s over to my Aunt’s for Christmas Day lunch, where we all have a good catch up with my Mum’s side of the family before devouring what can only be described as the most delicious roast in existence. It’s not just the turkey- the sausage meat stuffing is to die for. If only I could write poems of tribute to the power of the stuffing. Everyone else in my family has tried to repeat the recipe, but no one has come close. Sorry Mum.

After that, it’s time for more presents from the family, before the ominous presence of pudding rears its head; somehow welcome, yet not at the same time. After that, I was in charge of the Christmas quiz, the first we’ve done in many years, and I never believed there would be so much stress from trying to choose the right questions. I changed the music round several times when I realised my “mainstream” choices were a bit too obscure.

It’s not often I realize how incredibly lucky I am at Christmas. The last Saturday before Christmas, dubbed “panic Saturday,” saw scores of shoppers frantically searching for something to encourage a smile from their family members on the big day. The upside of this is that you may just find the perfect little trinket or toy to bring joy to their Christmas. The downside is the cruel hypocrisy that while we go consumerist crazy, there are many who will be in poverty, in debt, or alone. 13 million in the UK alone will be in poverty. In 2015. What a golden age we live in.

I’m sorry if that might seem a rather sobering statement where really, on the big day, the last thing many of us want to think about is the problems that we face in the real world. It’s that reason exactly why we can’t have Christmas everyday, not simply because it wouldn’t be special anymore; the world as we know it wouldn’t be able to function properly if it was. I’m not saying go out and donate all you have to charities either; I’m simply saying you should value what you have each Christmas, and by that I mean those around you and what is intrinsically important in your life.

The Sixth Blog of Christmas: The Heroes of Christmas

Christmas concert band

The last thing you expect to be doing on Christmas Day is pacing the corridors of a hospital ward, but that’s what my parents found themselves doing several years ago when one of my relatives had a heart attack. Being one of the youngest, I remained home with a few others, picking through the leftovers and taking our minds off things with a seasonal Vicar of Dibley. I suppose we look forward to Christmas because it seems to exist outside the norms of everyday life, immune to the problems that regularly invade it. That was the first time I fully realized that kind of existence is sadly not true, and also that for some it is just another day at work; yes, things go wrong on Christmas Day try as hard as you might to make it perfect, but you often imagine it to be something trivial. I can’t stress how much I am thankful to the doctors, nurses and paramedics who were working on Christmas Day and helped get my Nan back to recovery.

You often forget those who put in long hours to make sure everyone has the best Christmas possible. After all, Christmas can be one of the most stressful times of year, and there’s even part of me that breathes a sigh of relief once January comes and its over until the next one. The act of buying a present can be highly fulfilling, providing you know what the recipient wants; otherwise, it can be a struggle that only increases in severity as the big day draws near. If your son wants a toy plane, does it have to be a particular model? If you’re buying for your other half, are you going to set a budget on how much to spend? Or what if you think of a special family member, yet nothing springs to mind? It doesn’t take much for the anxiety to bubble over and become hostile.

Also, there is a kind of chaos unique to working in retail at Christmas. Bright lights and merry melodies blur into one coagulated festive mess as you try to finish one of the hundred-odd tasks you need to complete before the end of your shift, except you cannot walk more than five paces without a customer asking you where something is, or if the item that you definitely don’t have out the back IS out the back. I’m not being overly critical here; customers are the life blood of retail, and I want everyone to have the merriest Christmas possible. The only time it really grates is when you’re faced with a negative reaction. You have to remember that Christmas doesn’t happen without the scores of people who work all over the festive period, such as the postmen who get you your much needed present on Christmas Eve, or those who keep serving drinks until the early hours of New Year’s Day.

It’s not just about those who work over the festive period in the more traditional sense; think of the people in your life who really strive to make the Christmas season the best it can be. We have a massive party on Christmas Eve with family and friends which is primarily the hard work of my Mum; I help out as much as I can, but it will never be compared to how much my Mum does. Then, my Aunt hosts Christmas dinner for over a dozen of us on the big day itself, which is a tremendous achievement. Or what about all those events you attend over the festive period? Somewhere at the centre of all of them, someone is dashing around frantically ticking things off on their clipboard while never actually immersing themselves in the event they have put together. So, I’d like to raise a toast to those who work like hell during Christmas, because that’s what the true spirit of the season is. For them, Christmas is a frame of mind where you can’t settle for less.

The Third Blog of Christmas: Dreaming Of A White Christmas?

White Christmas3

What does a smattering of snowflakes in the air mean to you? A vivid nostalgia for the festive season you used to know? Or perhaps the nightmare of every commuter? It’s very easy and incredibly optimistic to dream of a White Christmas, but a thick layer of snow flies in the face of order, as if this festive season wasn’t stressful enough. Let even a few snowflakes fall in this country and everything falls into chaos; schools close, work is called off and any form of travel is deemed impossible (unless undertaken in wellies and at a snail’s pace.

Maybe people just really want a day off. I remember being thrilled as a teenager if I woke up to see my garden blanketed by snow, and my school’s website was adorned with a “closed due to weather” warning covering every corner. For me, that roughly translated to “hey, take a day off to build a snowman, have a snowball fight with your sister and go sledging down East Court, because snowfall trumps education.” But for many of us, our first reaction is not awe at the glistening blizzard before us, but dismay at picturing the inevitable delays.

Is that a little bit sad, or just realistic? I reckon it’s both. If I’m honest myself, I would detest a White Christmas. On the big day itself, my family makes the pilgrimage to my aunt’s for Christmas dinner in a neighbouring village. It’s no more than 15 minutes in normal weather, but traversing up and over hills with a thick layer of snow in our way would prove impossible. Then you have the crowds who hastily travel home on Christmas Eve, wringing their hands at the sight of train delays or accidents on the motorway; a White Christmas just isn’t practical in 2015.

Maybe a White Boxing Day would be more practical, but it doesn’t have the same ring to it. Of course, everyone wants a picture perfect scene at Christmas, like the ones you see on the big screen. But when you see their faces mesmerized as dots of artificial white blobs descend on their set, you don’t hear their panicked thoughts of how on earth will they reach Great Auntie May to indulge in her brussel sprouts?Real life may not be as scenic, but if you put the effort in it can be just as memorable. I’m happy just imagining a White Christmas, because I think reality just wouldn’t be as joyful, no matter how pretty a Winter Wonderland scene is.

The First Blog of Christmas: when does it actually begin?

advent calendar

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas shopping season. Aisles packed with frantic parents trying to remember what size shirt their teenage son is, or frustrated Dads charging past a mechanical reindeer that glides past the shop entrances. With an artificial tree  several floors high and a Santa’s grotto with queues that would make retail CEOs weak at the knees. Crawley County Mall looks just like a Christmas card, albeit one you send in jest to a close friend to bemoan the festive season in the twenty-first century.

I myself was doing a spot of festive shopping a couple of weeks ago, and considering how busy it was then, I dread to think how it is now. But a particular scene in River Island really got to me: I was queuing to buy some clothes  when I heard a young girl ask “Mum, ow many days until Santa comes?” There was a pause while Mum did the maths, before she replied “34.” The girl’s response? “But that’s aaaaaaaages away.”

My God. The little primary school girl had hit the big red man with the long white beard square in the face with a barrage of snowballs. She doesn’t understand why on earth we should be getting in the Christmas mood in November any more than we do, except we just shrug it off and occasionally shake our fists at the retail giants who shove mince pies down our throats at the earliest opportunity.

Believe me, I understand it’s good to get ahead of the game and buy presents now before it gets really stressful, and some retailers only stay afloat thanks to the festive period. But I want to hear “Fairytale of New York” for the first time when I start opening the doors on my advent calendar, not forced upon me by a fuzzy speaker next to a bleary eyed elf who looks ready to drown themselves in eggnog.

I know some stubborn purists and borderline Scrooges who are worse than me and insist Christmas belongs to Christmas Day itself, and not a day earlier. I suppose I sit comfortably in the middle; once the advent calendar has begun, so does my festive spirit. Out comes a colossal yuletide playlist, mince pies are always waiting in my kitchen cupboard, and I’m never seen without my Christmas jumper. I’ve had the same one for three years now, and never felt the need to change it; it has all the festive qualities without the weird knobbly bits that look so unflattering.

A month of Christmas shenanigans is enough for me. In my books, extending the festive season in to November removes some of the magic that makes Christmas so special; that feeling we long for each time it comes round. Yet that only reinforces just how diverse Christmas is, even within your own country. For many in times of hardship, be those economic or personal, Christmas is a constant that we can rely on to come about and spread peace and goodwill. Numerous renditions of Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas stress the importance of temporarily forgetting your troubles so that they do not constantly weigh you down.

In fact, the more I think about it, who am I to bemoan a source of comfort to those who really need it? If it really does roast your chestnuts, the best thing to do is to keep it to yourself, like all the other annoyances you deal with on a daily basis. So, if you were to ask when does the festive season actually begin, I guess there are two answers to my question: Christmas Day will always be the main source of celebrations, but otherwise Christmas begins when you want it to. Just make sure you go into it with all guns blazing.