I've been a bit miserable about the Christmas season recently, I've realised, mostly because I do find lots of things about this time of year very hard and getting through it is a challenge. It's not easy being depressed and feeling like you have to go out and about whilst miserable in the presence of everyone else being jolly. However, although it's true that I'm hardly a saintly Tiny Tim about the whole affair, nor am I a curmudgeonly Scrooge pulling down his nightgown and ignoring the fact that the stairs sound as if they're in the midst of a marathon steel band session.
Actually there are lots of things I love about Christmas, especially now that we've got into the ironic spirit (pun intended) of the thing properly. Sincerity is strictly reserved for good will to all men: the part about loving one another and "God (or the higher power of your choice) bless us every one" is the only part I really get on board with from that perspective. In my view Christmas is what you want to make of it. And in my view that's spending time with ones I love. And irony. And food.
When I lived in America I spent a memorable Halloween in Southfield, Michigan, where I was working at the time. I was amazed as I went to my beloved (and much missed) local Chipotle to see cars pulling up as usual, but emerging from them not the casually dressed office workers I usually saw in line ahead of me, but instead, a pirate, a teddy bear and some sort of fairy princess. Yes, Halloween in America is a Whole Other Proposition. We've all seen the films of adorable little darlings parading the streets in their cute miniature spaceman or cowboy outfits, a sort of Toy Story Comes To Life parody; but adults? I could hardly believe what I was seeing.
Of course, this is a country which loves its candy, so I don't know why I was as surprised as all that, but I was quite shocked by the lengths to which people would go to dress up and embrace the 'holiday' which carries such little weight in the UK and elsewhere. We find sincerity of this type quite the challenge in the UK. But last Friday in Britain, we had a holiday we as a nation can all, just about, with all our 'I'd like to but really it's terribly embarrassing and I couldn't possibly' reserve, get on board with: Christmas Jumper Day. Or, as I like to think of it, dress-like-your-mum-and-dad-would-have-in-the-seventies,-except-without-a-hint-of-irony day. I have to admit that this title does not quite have the same ring to it.
I spent Christmas in the USA with a great friend in 2003. As we went to buy our Christmas feast we marvelled at the lack of irony of the earnest shoppers all around us in their not quite ridiculous enough 'seasonal sweaters'. I'm talking about the single coloured-jobby with the white patterned reindeer dancing across the front. Or with big stars covering bigger bellies. Surely these people realised that they looked like extras from Home Alone? Apparently not. And Britain being Britain, we couldn't possibly engage in a jolly jape like Christmas jumper day without it being obvious that we're doing the whole thing for a proper giggle, and aren't taking ourselves seriously in the slightest.
We sometimes go to a local pub for a Christmas drink on the day. This is one of my favourite times to go out in public, as I love to watch other people enjoying their day and one another's company. This seems like a special way to mark the day, and the neutral ground helps. The weekend before Christmas, my extended family and I come together for a Christmas feast and sharing of silly presents and jokes. Everyone dresses up and we enjoy a catch up and seeing the younger members of the family having fun on the day.
As mentioned in a comment in my previous blog, I don't hold that you have to spend Christmas with your family to be happy. In fact for many that would be a recipe for unhappiness, where resentments long-harboured, traditions which are upheld in the absence of any civil tongues, or where presents are shared with expectations of larger and more expensive offerings to make up for any real warmth or love in the room. That is a traditional Christmas for many, and I don't like it one bit.
The films are probably worth a blog post to themselves, so I'll think about that over the next few days. In the meantime I'll take my Christmas radio times, bought once a year, and start circling my Christmas viewing timetable. Home Alone will definitely be on at some point, I bet.