Right, I’ve got a bit of an ongoing bone to pick with Christmas. I’m known to some of my best friends to be a bit of a misery, favouring a good old whinge over stuff that is supposed to be joyful. And I will confess that this does extend to Christmas. Firstly, let me clarify that there are some frivolous, superficial things that I like about the festive season. I like it that Christmas happens in the winter. I like winter. I like the cold weather and the fact that you can wear tights (I don’t mind getting my legs out in the summer, I just like tights). I like that it is a good excuse to wear glitter (although you will find me wearing glitter in June). Despite the fact that I am borderline teetotal, I like a little drop of port. I like fairy lights. And I love the songs ‘Fairytale of New York’ by The Pogues and ‘Christmas Time – Don’t let the Bells End)’ by The Darkness. And like the bells, this is where my love of Christmas ends.
You see, Christmas has turned into a load of ridiculous nonsense that has nothing to do with being festive, happy or joyful. People spend the weekends in the run-up to Christmas clogging up the roads, queuing to get into shopping-centre car parks so that they can spend their well-earned money on stuff. This sounds positively joyless, far from festive and actually rather stressful.
People also use the run-up to Christmas to eat and drink themselves silly. Just thinking about the gluttony, the piles of mince pies and the hangovers makes me nauseous. People kid themselves that they are having a great time gorging themselves on every item of junk food they can get their hands on, and then spend the first six months of the new year complaining about their burgeoning bellies and reducing health.
I recently visited my parents’ house to find this ‘Countdown to Christmas’ planner pinned up on the wall. My mum had left it out for me to gawp at. And gawp I did. It was found in The Telegraph, and was published in conjunction with John Lewis/Waitrose, from what I could tell. I will say that I have nothing against Waitrose, it being my preferred supermarket. However, I found this planner simultaneously hilarious and sickening, a little like a bad horror flick.
This planner pretty much summed up the utter nonsense of the middle-class Christmas ideal, and the pressure that people are increasingly feeling to create this non-existent, festive perfection. It gives you a run-down of everything you simply must be doing from 3rd November (yes, you need to start planning from the beginning of November!), right up to Christmas Eve. I’ll give you some of the highlights.
On 10th November, you need to secure a date for delivery and do the online shop (with Waitrose, natch), to avoid any last-minute panicking. Because heaven forbid you go and forget to stock up your larder in time for the one-day closure of the shops on Christmas day, and consequently go hungry.
The final Sunday before Advent is called ‘Stir-up Sunday’, which this year fell on Sunday 23rd November. Oh balls, I missed it. Stir-up Sunday is traditionally when families gather to make Christmas pudding together. As if all of us getting together once on Christmas day to argue and annoy each other isn’t enough, we must also do it on Stir-Up Sunday as a precursor. Our good planner suggested that we should make an extra pudding for next year. But wait, what on earth would we do next year on Stir-up Sunday when we’ve already made next year’s pudding?
Here’s a top tip from the Christmas planner, cleverly disguised as a ploy to entice you to purchase a product:
“Savour the countdown to Christmas with an edible advent calendar biscuit kit – each tin contains moulds, a cookie cutter and a recipe for petit beurre biscuits.”
Oh terrific. So not only am I going to bombard my myocardium with all of the saturated fat from your undoubtedly delectable biscuits, I am also going to be compelled to (attempt to) bake some myself. I will then be so disappointed that my home-made efforts have come out nothing like your perfect John Lewis biscuits, that I will gorge myself on the lot in a bid to feel better about my baking disaster. Extra points if you can pronounce ‘beurre’.
On 8th December, we should be ordering our turkeys or geese. Included are some excellent tips on what size of bird to purchase and how to perfectly cook it. Unfortunately, our good planner failed to provide us with vegetarian or pescatarian methods of cooking our turkeys and geese.
A Tuesday at the end of November (the 25th, to be precise), is the perfect time to go and purchase enough wine to ensure your cellar is fully-stocked. While you’re at it, you should also stock up on some good-quality multivitamins, as your liver sounds like it is going to get a kicking. Unless, of course, you only have a moderately-sized cellar, in which case you’ll probably be ok. My cellar is huge.
Lots going on in November. On the 27th we need to take a recce of our crockery, to ensure we have “enough serving dishes, crockery and glasses” to “see us through the season”. For the perfect Christmas, we must also check that all of our linen and napkins match. Heck, what happened to all of the crockery we had last year? Did it all mysteriously vanish into an abyss of passé right under our noses?
The final Friday in the swiftly-becoming nightmare that is November, is the dreaded Black Friday. Don’t even get me started on the retailing monstrosity that this became this year.
We’re well into December now, and on the 10th we need to begin thinking about our tree. Our trusty planner suggests (just to be a little different) that we should consider baking and icing our own Christmas biscuits to give as gifts or to decorate the tree with. So after our previous biscuit-baking disaster, we have to do it all over again? And not only that, we’re going to inflict our inedible goods on our friends. Wonderful. Our planner tries to sell us some cookie-cutting and baking paraphernalia from John Lewis here, but they seem to have forgotten that we already have everything we need for biscuit-baking after purchasing our John Lewis Advent Beurre Set back in November.
On 12th December we should be getting our homes ready for visitors. Apparently this means that we should be turning our homes into a high-end bed and breakfast, as we must have enough clean sheets, bedding and towels and luxury toiletries for any overnighting guests.
The 18th December is pickling day. Liver pickling, to be precise. It is recommended that we should infuse our vodka with fruit (or is it the other way round?) for some cocktails. My own personal suggestion would be to finish off this cocktail session by raiding your humongous wine cellar once you’ve finished the bottle(s) of vodka.
Now that you’ve had an entire day to recover from an undoubtedly hideous hangover, you can head over to your local cheese counter on 20th December to stock up on quantities of cheese that will make your coronaries quiver. For the perfect cheeseboard, we should be selecting three to five varieties of cheese, and they must be served on a marble cheeseboard to keep them cool. I have an inkling that you may be able to pick up a reasonably-priced marble cheeseboard at John Lewis.
Heavens above, it is 21st December already, which means that we must make a written seating plan in preparation for our dinner in four days. Hold up, am I getting confused between planning the seating for mum, dad, my husband, my brother, my kids, and that 200-guest wedding that I’m planning in May? Just in case you don’t know where to begin with setting a table, our planner has kindly provided an illustrative plan on how to do just that. Because we haven’t been on the planet long enough to know how to do this already.
On 22nd December we should brave the shops for our last-minute fresh ingredients. We may be a little stuck on where to put all of our fresh veg, because back in November, we were organised enough to book our online shop in advance and now have enough parsnips, carrots, sprouts and potatoes to feed the homeless.
Feeding the homeless… Now there’s a genuinely good idea. While we’re all striving for the perfect Christmas (a Christian season packed full with sinful activities), let us just take a second in between our online purchasing and wine-quaffing to think about people who are not so fortunate. The homeless. The ill. The poor. The lonely. Christmas doesn’t equate to all of this ‘loveliness’ for everyone. While we’re complaining about our non-matching crockery and inadequate pile of gifts, let’s just stop and realise that this is not the formula to make a time good. This is why I dislike Christmas. It is an over-hyped period that pressures people to be perfect, to have numerous gifts, to spoil their kids, to live out of their means and head into debt. This sucks.
My Christmas perfection is the same as any day. To enjoy my family. To have laughs, to have fun, to be balanced. To have enough and to be enough. Sometimes I don’t achieve this, but I try. And although The Telegraph (in conjunction with The John Lewis Partnership) have attempted to outline what the perfect Christmas should be like and how to achieve it, I feel that they have rather missed the point and the bigger picture.
What makes a genuinely special, memorable Christmas day in your home?
*Disclaimer: This post was not sponsored, and I was not paid to write it by anyone, particularly the John Lewis partnership. Although maybe I should have been.