When ‘happy Christmas’ is an order, not a salutation

Guest psychologists on radio at this time of year tell us to lower our expectations of Christmas. They’re right, of course


Stupefied by Michael Bublé, who was dreaming of a white Christmas on an unnecessarily cruel permanent loop, I found myself marooned in a supermarket aisle yesterday, glaring at Santa’s cherubic countenance on a box of assorted rot and thinking: good God, how did it get to be mid-December already?

I’m barely over the shock of encountering my pasty thighs pockmarked with sunburn (it was a lovely summer, if you remember) and, hey presto, choirs of angels are bleating on about goodwill and gourmet mustard. All of a sudden, we’re talking turkey again.

Yep, we’re off, retracing our steps, one hurried stride at a time, all the way to twinkling Christmasville. Once again we’re limping down merry old main street in our party shoes, bobbing about on a sea of goose fat and good tidings, skating towards another new year on the thin ice of season’s greetings.

That phrase “happy Christmas”: sometimes I read it on cards and billboards, and wonder whether it’s a salutation or an ultimatum.

My favourite part of the lead-up to Christmas is the presence of guest psychologists on radio programmes. I just love listening to those dulcet rationalists who try to talk us down from the dizzying heights of hysteria we seem to scale at this time of year.

Not everything is going to be perfect, they say. Lower your expectations, they gently implore. Inject a bit of realism into the giblet gravy. Hell, they say, just because fake snow is falling in the TV ads, and your neighbours have plastic reindeer antlers growing out of the windows of the family saloon, doesn’t mean that you’re going to have a textbook Christmas.

Seasonal benevolence
They’re right, of course. It’s probably time to face the fact that bearded Auntie Mona is never going to like your Christmas pudding or your husband, despite that bed jacket you bought her on Ebay. And it’s more than probable that your pungent teenagers are not going to appear fragrant and gleaming around the breakfast table on Christmas morning, swathed in tartan pyjamas and seasonal benevolence.

I particularly liked the softly spoken guru on national radio last weekend who was invited into studio to counsel the nation on the etiquette of the office Christmas party. The lady in question suggested wearing something sensible to the event (chain-mail culottes and a polo neck, perhaps?) and limiting one’s alcohol intake (oh, how many times have I regretted ignoring that advice).

She also advised that one should invent an urgent appointment that you just have to dash off to before your boss puts his tongue in your ear or you find yourself under the desk with the area sales rep. Lie, in other words, which is possibly not in keeping with the spirit of the season. This is sensible advice, which is bound to fall on ears deafened by sleigh bells and clinking glasses of warm Chardonnay.

Pernicious rocks of domesticity
Whatever about waking up in the filing cabinet with an empty bottle of Pernod in one hand and the managing director’s toupee in the other, I imagine it’s on the home front that we are most likely to perish over the Christmas season; it’s on those pernicious rocks of domesticity that we’ll flounder.

Maybe it’s the television spewing out images of well-scrubbed families reaching ecstatic states over the shagging gravy that makes it hard not to feel you’re somehow underachieving on the home front at this time of year.

I was driving home recently, listening to the car radio, having failed to deliver my son to his Christmas exams with sufficient time for him to “relax and get my head together” before attempting to deconstruct Plato and Nietzsche. (I’m all for esoteric teaching, but I wish setting an alarm clock and reading a bus timetable was on the curriculum.)

Driving along to a soundtrack of spirit-sapping radio ads for Christmas baubles and plastic snowmen (“when they’re gone, they’re gone!” the man said, which is some consolation), I found myself thinking about all the ways in which I have failed to provide idyllic Christmases over the years.

It’s a seasonal disorder, self-flagellation with the tinsel (and a significantly less onerous problem to mull over than how to make bread sauce), but we really shouldn’t need a professional to tell us that it’s okay to kind of fail the festive test.

It’s odds-on our Christmases will include lost dice and incomprehensible mobile devices and searing hangovers and flatulent dogs and a bit of weeping in the bath. And somebody’s bound to leave the parsnips in the oven and someone else will trip over the cat while they’re carrying the trifle. But at least we can console ourselves with the thought that sooner or later we’ll all fall asleep and wake up in dreary old January.

Anyway more of this yuletide prattle anon. I have to go and lasso a turkey now.

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