Peace? Joy? Goodwill? Even people you like are a challenge at Christmas
This time of year is about survival, and here are some tips on getting through the Big Day
‘The whole pagan idea of a midwinter festival was a respite to get us through whatever’s yet to come.’ File photograph: Getty Images/iStockphoto
Peace! Goodwill! Joy! Magical sleighrides!
No one’s Christmas looks like this. If you’re lucky enough to have food and shelter this festive season, there are still plenty of potholes that need to be side-stepped if you wish to avoid international incidents IN YOUR OWN HOME and make it to New Year without having to call the Peace Corps (aka Auntie Síocháin, the diplomat in the family).
How do I tell people I don’t like those pink wafer biscuits? Presented, in tins, with such ceremony: the biscuits! Ooh, the biscuits! Truth is they’re sawdust that wishes it had joined the circus, didn’t, but now spends the holidays telling anyone who’ll listen about how they once dated a lion-tamer.
They appear fancy and exotic, they want to be, but there’s something faded and sad about them. You end up wanting to mind a pink wafer, tell it, “You are enough”, spend time with it. But it is not delicious. How can you trust anything that you can’t dunk without it disappearing completely? Pink wafer! Maybe you should have been a magician!
But back to festive diplomacy. If you’re vegetarian, bring some kind of disguise when visiting. You’re “ruining Christmas dinner for everyone” and “making them feel bad for enjoying themselves” when all you ask for is a quiet corner to yourself, where you can peel roasted chestnuts in peace.
If such a corner isn’t available, the disguise will be essential. Perhaps a standard lamp, or Christmas tree. You can slip from room to room unnoticed, preparing meat-free treats until the eleventh hour. However, you will have to show yourself at dinner or risk causing that international incident.
At the table, be prepared for 13,000 questions. “Do you not miss it (meat)?” No. “But what do you stick the cloves into?” Oranges. Or mercifully avoid cloves altogether. Cloves aren’t compulsory. Or – sweet baby Jesus – are they? Have I broken some kind of spice law?
And the biggie: “Where do you get your protein?” It’s best to avoid all realistic answers about combined amino acids and just say something like: “Protein? Oh, they have an app for it now.”
(By the way, we see you, family members who tell vegetarians we can have all the surplus sprouts. No one likes sprouts. No one.)
Another harmonious tip: early on on the Big Day, when the peeling and chopping frenzy is at its peak, set the TV to a channel you want to watch. Then take the batteries out of the remote. This might seem Grinch-like in its deviousness, but it will lead to a ton of harmony, believe me.
After eating, nobody will be able to leave the couch and get to the telly to change it. Regardless of the genre, the Yule Rule is that whatever’s on will feel exciting at first then turn out to be rubbish (like a pink wafer); no one will notice after the first half hour.
Any complaining will help to lull them off to sleep. It’s a great digestive aid, moaning, and as a bonus, it shifts some of those clovey calories. Not only do you get to watch what you want, but you also have spare batteries in your pocket for when your niece or nephew’s Santa present runs out of juice. The batteries Santa brings are always terrible. He should have a word with his electrical elves. But for now, you are a Christmas hero.
Whatever about meat, there’s one kind of animal you can’t get out of coming into contact with: people. Other people.
Surely, back when the carols were written, “goodwill” was merely a nice thought – to be extended to relatives and acquaintances you would never actually see due to distance, lack of public transport, threat of plague or wolf attacks. Never something you’d be in danger of having to do in the same room. Talking to people. Maybe even having to wonder if they’re a handshake or a hug person? Shudder. It’s too hard. It’s too much.
Even people you like can be a challenge at this time of year. You’ve spent 12 months battling whatever it is you’re battling (and we’re all battling something). The whole pagan idea of a midwinter festival was a respite to get us through whatever’s yet to come. The best present I can think of – be it from parents to grown-up children, or for long-lost relatives on tour-of-duty visits – would be comfortable silences.
If we could just agree in advance that they’re better than awkward, exhausting chit-chat, maybe more of us would emerge less tattered and torn, less yesterday’s wrapping paper.
So, even if curiosity and the Ghost of Christmas Crap are nudging you to ask why someone’s not working, or pregnant yet, or what they earn, or is this or that relative dead, or where they got the jumper, or their protein? Maybe … don’t? Maybe park the gossip and just sit. Together. In peace. It’s what Auntie Síocháin would have wanted.