The Christmas Dinner
Picture the scene if you will. You’re seated in the garden with twenty other people, at a long table, on splendid wooden decking and the temperature is around 29C (85F). The guests either side of you don’t speak a word of English, they don’t understand your Spanglish very well and show not the slightest interest in what you’re saying. You take another slurp of your Cabernet Sauvignon, hoping the anaesthesia will kick in, try to strike up yet another conversation with your neighbour, only to find that they completely ignore you, turn away and begin chatting with someone else. At that point, you’re hoping for a sudden interruption– an earthquake, a tornado or even a spiritual manifestation would suffice, rising over the table invoking all those present to speak in tongues.
Even the dessert spoon on the table looks welcoming enough to dig that hole for your great escape. But of course, nothing of the kind takes place and you resign yourself to three more hours of purgatory, which doesn’t even include the gift ceremony, yet you’re still hoping for a diversion, maybe even a bun and cream cake fight? Alternatively, you could tap on your wine glass, ask for everyone’s attention and announce that you are in fact a woman struggling inside a man’s body. But no, that’s been done before and isn’t even dramatic anymore, is it?
Doesn’t it always seem like five minutes since the last time the family was thrown together and those thirty days soon turn into single digits, as you barge your way through wave after wave of Christmas shoppers, trying your best to drum up an inkling of enthusiasm? I’m not religious in any way, shape or form, so the obligatory exercises are usually just another shopping expedition best left until the last minute. Naturally, the countdown includes enquiries about Christmas dinner, which in my case is always on Christmas Eve. But since I have no voting rights on who the away team will consist of, I’m forced to accept the inevitable with prickly resignation and cold shudders down my spine. This is why, after the fat lady has done her singing, I like to murmur ‘It’s all over, bar the shouting.’ And, oddly enough, Jesus is never mentioned once. Not once, and I’d always thought it was his night, after all.
The Gift Ceremony
As if the night isn’t long enough already (barring tempests or the hand of God ), the gift presentation doesn’t commence until midnight, sending another wave of ennui over me, alleviated somewhat by the second bottle of Cabernet, but still a daunting prospect, nonetheless. Opening presents in front of a mass of people I barely know isn’t one of my fortes, especially when it’s the sixteenth pair of socks, or that aftershave you always avoided because it made you smell like a gigolo and you try your best to smile and summon up from the depths some mild gratitude. Similar to the Oscars ceremony, this can go on for about ninety minutes and, short of feigning a life-threatening medical condition, there really is no escape. So you watch as the pile of gifts mercifully decreases in size, take another slurp of your favourite tipple, then check your watch to find that it’s already one-thirty in the morning.
Head For The Hills!
For many reasons, Christmas has never been my favourite time of year, not least the in-fighting that goes on as to where you’re going to go and who’s going to be there. But there are escapes available, of which I’ve availed myself on numerous occasions. One year we made some tuna sandwiches, a flask of coffee, jumped in the car and spent Christmas Day in the Welsh Mountains, watching sheep nibble grass by a cascading winter river with the rain lashing down on the steamed-up windscreen. It was heaven actually and nearly beaten by another year when we spent on an old wooden boat at anchor in a bay in West Wales. On both occasions, we gave each other a gift when we returned home, quietly and without ceremony, maybe accompanied by a glass of our favourite tipple.
These are just two examples of the perfect solution to the Christmas dilemma– you choose the company, the location, the time and ward off those guilty feelings of being selfish. But then, I have to ask, what is more selfish? To corral a group of people into a synthetic happy gathering, who barely see each other from one year to the next (and possibly hate each other), or to opt-out and enjoy the most overrated day of the year doing something relatively normal? There’s nothing selfish about being pro-choice, but this year, as with the last many, many years, that particular avenue is not available. I am, however, planning a counter-attack for next year which may include mountains, deep rivers or even an expansive ocean view. Or possibly go out and give food to those who really need it, regardless of the season. Who’s with me in the rebellion?
Answers please, in the spaces provided below, once you’ve recovered from the excesses of the 25th.