Christmas is a bit like a raft.
First of all you don’t think you can get it to stick together. Which wood should you use ? (Of course, I want to say pine trees) What about the crosspieces and how will you secure them ? Will you need a sail ? And most importantly will it float ?
By the time it gets to ten days before Christmas, it doesn’t matter whether your festivities are elaborate or simple, traditional or innovative, a seven day blow out or 24 hours to catch your breath – you are committed to them.
And if you are not determined to make the best of them , please don’t start.
Years ago a young woman rang me to moan about Christmas, what she didn’t like about it, how boring it was, could she get out of travelling home ? She could of course, I said, but not ten days before. It’s rude. People have hopes and they make plans, even boring old parents. If you are going to go home, do it graciously. And if you are not going to do it with grace, don’t do it at all – and then you have to step back with grace
and you should have negotiated that six to eight weeks ago, minimum. Still, I doubt if there is very much in life that you couldn’t do with pleasant good manners for two or three days. Lie in your teeth if you must about extra work or a friend you’re really worried about so that you are around for the minimum time, but make sure you are charm personified for that minimum. A course on politeness as a method of social control and survival seems like a very good idea.
I have been fretting about Christmas because I am an inveterate old fashioned see for myself shopper and most of the places I want to investigate are small shops, fairs, sales of work and markets, all of which have taken a beating at the hands of the bug, the lockdown and so on. And this has all been made worse by surrounding indeed ubiquitous uncertainty. To use an old fashioned phrase, we really don’t know whether we are coming or going.
And time out from that sense of confusion is particularly hard to arrange because it affects so many aspects of our daily lives.
And I don’t feel safe outside, not in any seriously phobic way. Just unsure, unsettled: so I go out, do things and come back sooner rather than later, the very opposite of the committed Christmas shopper.
Came Saturday and I made a decision. I went to an area where I like to shop, out from the centre of London rather than further in, got on a tube instead of a raft and got on with it. I prepared myself for disappointment – and didn’t have any. The places I value are still open, hooray ! Of course I regret the ones that haven’t survived but even so … I found presents I had given up being able to conceptualise, I bought marmalade from a Frenchman who made my day by speaking French back to me
(full marks for flattery and salesmanship – we beamed at each other round our masks). I picked up this and purchased that, up to and including some moody Zen based balm for my aching knee, and wonderfully inexpensive pretty cards from two girls who smiled, cheerfully and agreeably. They run a card shop – it should flourish.
I got the giggles in the fourth Waitrose in which I have tried to buy the tailored inexpensive candles I like – where you can have every kind of perfume, shape, container and variant of candles , but not plain cream ones. They are not in my local because it is running down stock, and anyway they’re just not Christmassy. So I shan’t see them again till the New Year has been and gone and we’re back to “normal life” – a phrase the meaning of which remains increasingly unclear to me. And I don’t think I am alone.
The imaginary Christmas raft has by now vanished into thin air, I know what remains for me to do and then the time will be upon us.