Jennifer O’Connell: ‘The strange things we lose the run of ourselves over at Christmas’
Good biscuits, dried fruit, coffee table books and the Coca Cola truck
Only people on Instagram use their coffee tables for storing books. For everyone else, they’re a place to put remote controls, piles of laundry and feet
The Coca Cola Christmas truck came to town a couple of weeks ago. I was dimly aware of its presence, due to the some 1,537 people who told me it was coming, and the roughly 17,421 who casually mentioned afterwards having seen it. It rolled into town at 2pm, and when it finally departed at 8pm, there were still “around 600” people queuing. According to CSO figures, there are now more Irish people claiming to have seen the Coca Cola Christmas truck, than say they were at the GPO in 1916, or who claim to have consumed a breakfast roll in 2008.
But what were they queuing for, I wondered. It can’t have been just a lorry with soft drink branding. Was Barack Obama on board? No. Dermot Bannon, then? Yeah, no. Did it do your Christmas shopping for you, while you enjoyed a rum-based cocktail and a nap? Hmmm. WERE THERE EVEN DOUGHNUTS?
Apparently, you got a mini can of Coke and the chance to take a selfie. To be clear: that’s 600 people queuing for six hours to get a photo, and a minibar-sized beverage.
Fair enough. Because it’s Christmas – or, as I prefer to think of it, the Emergency – we are constitutionally bound to lose the run of ourselves over things we wouldn’t give a nod to in the street any other day of the year.
Getting a spot in the Brown Thomas carpark: Braving the chaos in the Brown Thomas carpark is a beloved, Celtic Tiger tradition that has been passing down through the generations since at least 2006. Every year, around this time, distress signals start emanating from Level 5, where people have been trapped in their vehicles for at least 30 minutes, and feel the need to tweet that they now understand what those poor Thai schoolchildren went through. Then a buzz of excitement goes around, as it’s rumoured that some well-known Irish personalities might be among them. Someone orders pizza. Someone else breaks into Nearer My God To Thee. A cheer goes up as somebody says Elon Musk is building a submarine to get them out. Then the person down on Level 2, who lost their ticket between the machine and the barrier, suddenly discovers they’re sitting on it, and the whole drama is over, 42 minutes after it began. Any year now, RTE will catch on, and do a Late Late Show Special from Level 5.
Books that will never sit on anyone’s coffee table: if you’re going to leave all your shopping to Hodges Figgis in the last hour before closing on Christmas Eve, photographic collections of dogs swimming underwater and histories of other people’s lost grocery lists may start to look like clever and esoteric choices, reflecting both your good taste and the recipient’s quirky sense of humour. By Christmas morning, you and everyone else will be wondering exactly how many Bailey’s coffees you’d had at the point of purchase. The dark conspiracy at the heart of the flourishing coffee table books industry is that only people on Instagram actually use their coffee tables for storing books. For everyone else, they’re a place to put remote controls, piles of laundry and feet.
Dried fruit: Why does so much Christmas cuisine revolve around dried fruit, the guerrilla insurgents of the fresh produce world? You might as well add sugared rabbit excrement to your dessert for all the value they bring to otherwise blameless cakes, puddings and stuffing. And yet, they’re everywhere to Christmas, spreading their tart and fundamentally indigestible presence. Dried fruit is to dessert what Nigel Farage is to television cameras, and should be opposed just as violently.
Canapes: Would you come to blows with a colleague over the last piece of room temperature salmon sitting on a square of something approximating warm cardboard any other day of the year? No, but come December, you’d think canapes were free iPhone Xs, for all the decorum with which their arrival at the work Christmas bash is greeted.
Good biscuits: The other 334 days of the year, Custard Creams and Bournville are grand. Come the month of December, the only acceptable accompaniment to a warm beverage is a biscuit which comes from a tin, and is subtly branded to suggest it might have emanated from America or Buckingham Palace. You can’t just dive into your ‘USA Baby’ or ‘Afternoon Tea, Darling’ biscuits though, no matter how excited you might be. There are rules. The rules include not eating the ones with the jellies first, not going down to the second layer until the first layer is empty, and leaving the pink wafers to fester there, unloved, until someone with a hangover come across them in August and decides to put them out of their misery.
Other people: Christmas is a time for suddenly making panicked arrangements to meet people we have no interest in seeing the other 11 months of the year before “The Day Itself”. And then immediately suffering from social remorse, and tying ourselves in knots trying to devise creative ways to wriggle out of them.
Happy losing the run of yourselves. See you after The Day Itself.