How to have a Chris Rea Christmas
Whatever you think about Christmas, there comes a time when you have to make your peace with it
Christmas tends to divide opinion, like Rattle Hum or Roy Keane. I can take it or leave it. As I’ve got older I’ve found it harder to tap into that Christmassy feeling, which is almost a distant memory, like Fortycoats or a properly functioning banking system. The only significant Christmas spirit I’ve been in contact with over the last while is whiskey.
My childhood memories of Christmas are typically joyous: decorating the tree with the family, warming in front of open fires, trudging through snow to midnight Mass, spending long days rewinding and reloading Turrican II: The Final Fight on my Commodore 64 in the hope I’d complete it before the end of the holidays.
But, as the years go by, the record needle of your life gets worn down. Myths about the origins of presents are exploded. Back to the Future Part III is released. You become a tad cynical.
The build-up to Christmas can be fraught with danger. First, buying gifts. Do you prebuy online, like you’ve been promising yourself since last December’s fiasco? No. Do you handcraft thrifty presents for loved ones, painstakingly shaving personalised wood carvings in the November twilight? You do in your hoop.
You crash-land in town at the last minute, like Mel Gibson on Buckfast, and begin Operation Smash’n’Grab, hoovering up every piece of plastic-wrapped rubbish you can stuff into a rucksack. No scarf is too gaudy, no doll too unethically sourced, no Brendan Grace DVD too potentially embarrassing.
The pre-Christmas festivities aren’t much better. The past few years have seen the emergence of two particularly worrying trends. First there’s the ironic Christmas jumper, a trend so twee and loathsome I’m only bitter I didn’t come up with the business idea myself.
These primary-coloured monstrosities can be seen on the recently well-oiled all over the streets of Ireland, usually accompanied by flashing fairy lights. The jumpers typically come with seasonal patterns – reindeer or Santas or snowmen or the outline of Cliff Richard’s head – and are even more annoyingly trendy this year because they look like something Sarah Lund might wear in The Killing.
The ironic Christmas jumper is the uniform of choice for the Twelve Pubs of Christmas, a Yuletide pub crawl that’s so messy it’s like a celebration of Santa’s own self-evident issues with binge-drinking. I’d go so far as to say that every time a loud idiot in an ironic Christmas jumper staggers into a bar, a little elf dies at the North Pole.
Then there are the logistical issues around getting home. Cold snaps in recent years haven’t suited us, especially if you’re of the rural persuasion, like me. You know things are particularly bad when the AA Roadwatch girl mentions “treacherous conditions”. Throw in “black ice” and the country goes into the sort of lockdown usually reserved for the black death.
Is there enough salt on the roads? Should I have switched to winter tyres? How can you even countenance the existence of a benevolent God on this cold, desolate planet with its many treacherous surfaces?
I overhear weary travellers in pubs telling war stories about how they finally made it home on Christmas Eve, having navigated that slippery patch around exit 17 near Portlaoise. You’d swear they had spent the past six months racing Capt Scott to the South Pole.
And then there’s the official response. If, in years gone by, we were a little short on salt, we now appear to have stockpiled enough to preserve the entire haddock stocks of the north Atlantic. My advice is simple: set off good and early, like Chris Rea.
In the past year or two, however, once I do manage to get home a funny thing happens. It all changes. I throw my cynicism to the wind.
This has been helped significantly by the pitter-patter of little cousins’ feet and the scene in Elf in which Will Ferrell jumps into the Christmas tree. Now the kids rule the roost. It’s as if the meaning of Christmas has suddenly and joyfully returned.
So I think I’ve made my peace with Christmas again after many years of cold indifference. I’m okay with the fact that meeting up with old school friends is pretty much the same as my annual review at work. I’ve come to terms with the fact many of the awful jokes in Christmas crackers are better than my gags on Twitter. And I’m totally cool with the imminent 6,000 calories, God damn it, whatever form they may take.