I have a frisky and kittenish love of something about Christmas. Its not the Christian part; except that its a birthday, and I like birthdays. (I will post about birthdays another time.)
I was brought up Christian, as I've mentioned before, and I do love carol services, though like lots of other people who go on to first lapse, then reject the religion of their birth, I did tend to doze off or become cross during the sermon parts. Just sitting in whatever church and looking round at the decorations (always a nice emphasis on Christmassey florals and often, good smells, in churches), and sometimes hearing a small quartet or proper orchestra (my mother goes to a BIG church in central London, that's where I used to get taken to) play some part of a Christmas Oratorio, or some keening and ethereal piece by Messiaen, or Faure...The atmosphere was wonderful. The warmth inside after the cold outside. The smiles of the people as they greet each other. (I realise now, of course, as I didn't till I was 10 or so, that the greetings were those of cultish followers to one another, a tribal thing. I started to think they were odd people with strange shiny eyes, and after a while, I couldn't even go to the carol services any more, as I found the people too odd. But that's by the by.) Standing up and singing carols (which of course, I inexplicably know by heart, since I must have had them brainwashed right through me whilst at primary and secondary school) with a full throated gusto, with other people....You may have gathered, I don't DO much at all With Other People. I tend to feel a bad fit. But I will sing with people. These happy carols: the Holly and the Ivy, Ding Dong Merrilly on High etc - at school, I sang soprano descant to that one, always fun, descanting anything. I tend to descant practically anything I sing now, I just make them up. It annoys the hell out of Fry - he plays me a song, and if I like it, apparently, I then ruin it. Tsk. Unappreciative children. Anyhow. I now do carols on the radio, or via many CDs. I'll listen to them while washing up, or when Fluffhead and I are drifting from room to room in the afternoon. Its good to sing out, to smile and sing.
No, the Christianity bit doesn't agree with me anymore...Its the ambience of Christmas, as fed to me through a thousand sources, growing up. I'm not a purist - I will take a festival (anyone's, from any religion or philosophy) and adopt it if I like it, and do it my own way, make my own point with it. The point of Christmas, to me, is bright colours, good food, making time to be with people you choose to (notice I don't stricture you to family; or indeed anyone). If you can afford it and want to: the thoughtful selection of gifts for your loved ones. Its fun to choose; it feels great to give. Its a chillout winter festival, where ideally, there should be no pressure. (Of course, it all goes wrong a thousand ways with the enforced togetherness with people you don't want to be with; or the cooking for too many, the over spending, the competing etc etc etc...But I am trying, year after year, to hone it more and more, to be what I think of as a Good Christmas - and that's less pressure, more relaxing, and doing the bits you like and leaving out the rest. That's just my opinion! And I'm happy to have that one and work on making it so.
I like the way shops start getting shiny in November. Yes, I'm not going to crack into the shops for their commercialism. It would be hypocritical...Shops are there to make money; Christmas has become a bit of buying fest. You don't have to go along with it if you don't want to. You can just wander through whatever shops you happen to have to go through, and think: shiny!! Baubles!! Pre-Christmas Sale! Handy... Good luck to the shops. I will just enjoy the piped carols, and the old Hollywoodish Christmas songs they seem to specialise in. Yes - Santa Claus Is Coming To Town, and so on. I'm fine with all the assistants having to wear silly little red caps with white pom poms, or even sillier Christmas earrings (I would not like to get some of the bigger ones I've seen get caught on something in passing, though - OWWW!).
I like the way I suddenly think of sending cards to people that I haven't really bothered with much all year, for whatever reason (time usually; or I simply am growing far away from them...or they are family, and I have little in common with them!). I like the fact I can send a properly heartfelt little message in the card, and will likely get one back - people tend to forgive crapness at staying in touch when it comes to Christmas. Suddenly I'm very interested in what my long lost cousin Jules has been up to all year, though I didn't really think of her much all year at all. But I didn't think ill of her; I always liked her. Its nice to think she's out there somewhere, doing stuff, being happy (she's a happy solid sort of person). The distant family and old friends are like little threads I catch up and reel in at Christmas, and on the end of each little silver thread is a small message from each person: what they have been doing, where they've been. Even if they've been nowhere and done nothing - the way they write, I can feel them. Formal, or stilted, or badly spelled, spiderly written - there they are, clear and real.
I like thinking of making my own mince pies (though I never yet have). I get Nigella Lawson or Anjum Anand dreams of Kitchen Goddessery with regularity every single year. The closest I have ever come to fulfilling these dreams is since I've been with Stanley. We usually share the cooking of the Fat Bastard Lunch (as he has wisely, earnestly and accurately christened Christmas Day Dinner). We eat veggie, so we each have our tasks: he has to always do the Brussels sprouts with the almonds and secret spice ingredient. You have NOT tasted Brussels sprouts till you've tasted his! I used to think (like lots of English people) that the Brussels sprout was a critter of very limited appeal - its over boiled and it stinks. Like cabbage. Reeks, in fact. You either love it or you hate it. But no longer! Stanley cooks them properly! As in, hardly much at all, and then after that, its all secret. But they are heavenly. I do the stuffings (3 different kinds). And the bread sauce, and the cranberry, and the roast potatoes. He does the veggie meatloaf type thing, or the nut cutlets, or the whatever the main bit is. Some years there is no main bit, its a glorious array of endless veggie side dishes. Sometimes we have kulfi for dessert (an Indian ice-cream - makes other ice cream look like an half hearted effort....This year I may actually attempt to make the kulfi, try and put the time in...). Neither of us like Christmas Cake - urgh, all that rich over heavy stodginess. Give me a Panettone any day...except we can't, as that's eggy, and Stanley's mostly vegan. So its whatever we choose to make that counts as decadent. And a tin of Quality Street, as I grew up with that at Christmas (my dad was a big fan of breaking teeth on bad toffee), so I insist on this limited tradition.
I like the idea of making my own Christmas presents (which I actually do, sometimes). Its easy to be all craftyfied, and combine simple things like epsom salts, rose petals, lavender petals, hints of essential oil to boost, and then out them in a pretty tub from a pound shop. Its fun and its easy, and if you have loads of female friends who have a bath (falls a bit flat if they have a shower, as you can get away with saying you can use the epsom salts to scrub; but the petals - they'll just go everywhere and make a mess) it works out cheap to make. I have done that a couple of Christmases. Theres loads of things you can make if you want, and they don't all have to be expensive (as sadly, lots of the 'Make It At Home' Christmas gift books of the Kirstie Allsopp variety seem to be - defeats the purpose, I feel). Of course, unless you're a grand knitter, men are harder...But if you feel like it, there's always something you can make someone...IF they are the kind of person to appreciate a made thing. I always remember, once at school, a long long time ago, I gave Beatrice (yes that's her actual name!! Hah!) a made Christmas present. She was a girl in my class I was trying to make friends with. I had judged the present carefully: was only a small thing, not freaky and over-eager. And she looked at it, paused and said: 'didn't you have the money to buy a present?', and gave it back to me!!! Beatrice...May you have learned some bloody manners by now, woman!!
I love hermitting away with my nuclear family unit - Stanley and me; now Stanley and Fluffhead and me. Growing my own traditions with Stanley - that's a lovely feeling. I had different traditions when I was with Alias Troubadour, and Fry. Times move along. We plan our Christmas viewing. When I was little, my dad used to get the Christmas Radio Times and a big red marker pen. He would read it like a book, seriously circling everything he wanted to watch and writing his name next to it. Then it was mum's turn, same deal. Then me. In that order - as in: whatever he wanted to watch, if he was about and not napping, that's what We Will Watch. Then mum - though her choices were usually acceded to because she spent all of Christmas day cooking. (Her fondest Christmas wish now, is to spend Christmas alone, with a microwave meal, and not have to do a damned thing, just rest and feel peaceful. She is finally going to get her wish this year; and I'm going to stock her up with pressies of her favourite TV shows, Lewis, Foyle's War, that sort of thing, so she doesn't get lonely. But she won't. She has amazing inner toughness, my mum. I think she'll be loving the freedom to not have to do any of the 'rigmarole'. She can listen to the backed up sermon tapes she has accumulated too, through weeks of going to church but helping out at the creche or Welcome Desk instead of being in the actual church bit...See? Doing Christmas, finally, the way SHE wants to. You go, mum!!! Cheering for you.)
Stanley and I are going to watch old nostalgia Christmas TV: we have the Christmas Specials of Porridge, Morecombe and Wise, the Two Ronnies, Steptoe and Son. I will listen to his Hancock's Half Hour's. (I will run a mile from The Navy Lark, bloody awful!) Something Christmassey with Stephen Fry will no doubt present itself. I will introduce Fluffhead to A Muppets Christmas Carol. The variations on Scrooge alone will keep us busy a bit - definitely the one with Patrick Stewart, definitely the one with Bill Murray. When Stanley goes to his mancave, as no doubt he will, at some point, I will sneak on things like: White Christmas, Holiday Inn, (yes, I know they're sort of the same, but I like that), Box of Delights; and definitely NOT Its a Wonderful Life, as I find the ending so utterly NOT What Would Happen that it really Annoys Me. We have only just started with the list....for fillers, like when cooking, there are of course, the Futurama Christmas episodes - its not Christmas without Evil Robot Santa, come now! Oh - the joy we will get from just making the list!!
I love the idea it might snow. Snow is brilliant (if you aren't driving, yes). Even Fry, who is one of the world's most unjustifiably cynical youths, gets all goose-pimpled by a good snow. Everything looks new! And clean, and calm, and quiet! Its beautiful! Fluffhead's first snow last year was a wonderful thing. He just looked so surprised by it.
I love the wreaths, the candles, the Christmas tree, the decorations - small or ridiculous and over done. (One year, I was left to do the decorations at home by my mum, already starting to get a case of early onset humbug over the whole preposterousness of it all. This was just fine with me, as I had, and I have no recollection how or why, just come into a vast hoard of very cheap garish plastic-y decorations from somewhere. So I be-decked the living room. It took me all day, and I did not know when to stop. When mum came back from shopping, lugging a far too big turkey for storing in a bucket under the sink I seem to remember, she was horrified. Then dad came in. There was a bit of [rather unreasonable I felt] shouting. About how the place looked like a Turkish Bordello now....as if he had any proper idea what a Turkish Bordello looked like. Humpf. I did appreciate that I had created a sort of drapy tent effect, by ending all my streams of decorations at the central light from wherever on the wall they were. You couldn't see much left of the ceiling or the wall. Anyway. I was very proud of my efforts, and they did stay up, despite the muttering whenever dad came in the room, and his worries something would fall gently down when he wasn't paying attention, and catch light on his roll up, thereby burning down the flat and it being all my fault...) I love the colours of Christmas - the emphasis on gold and green and red. Or the silver/white/blue Ice Queen idea thats been here for a while - the cool and cucumbered type of Christmas. Since Fluffhead, there's been few decorations. But it doesn't matter - a little cluster of this and that, here and there - a glint of a shiny red bauble and some tinsel, a few cinnamon sticks...it all feels like the spirit of Shiny Christmas Prettiness.
I love the idea of champagne (more usually cider!); toasting Christmas Eve. Opening one gift early, almost ceremonially, with Stanley. The whole thing of Christmas Eve as a feeling - the anticipation. The leaving Father Christmas a biscuit and some milk, and a carrot for the reindeer...I haven't got to do that since Fry was small, and soon I get to do it again! (Who says Christmas is just for children?!!!) (Well, Fry does, for one, but he is a Grumpy Thing of Much Humbug other than the snow, at Christmas.)
I love the presents! Lets be honest! I love to watch my loved people open stuff I went to trouble to think about. Stanley loves a surprise, but also has an authorised List. I am not partial to surprises (as what would happen if I didn't like the thing, and couldn't arrange my face quickly enough into a polite look of 'oh how nice' - what if the giver saw and had hurt feelings?? That would Not Do, its sad). Nope. I have a Proper Authorised List, with price bands! So I can be made happy for 99p and above, its all very means-friendly! Of course, plenty people have ignored the list, and sometimes they are lucky; and sometimes I think...Biscuits? Again?? Or I have that thing where I once told a person I like horror films, so they think this means every horror film ever made...when I am quite genre specific...I clearly acknowledge that I am missing the point with that reaction. And I always write nice thank you notes, regardless, as hurting someone's feelings unnecessarily is rude and unkind. Its lovely to think, to get someone something they will like and want (and probably think is too decadent or unnecessary to get for themselves), and wrap it with love. And bows and stuff. Ok, I'm all girly about this.
By Boxing Day, I am not liking it much anymore. The spectre of people promising (threatening) to come over is now large. I have to cook for other people (like, lots of people - more than 3!!), and sit about and watch things not on the list on TV. Christmas East Enders is a spectacle too awful to think about, but I have had to live through it in the past. (With Fry is the best way to get through that one...joke your way through its crass dreary depressingness, that's the way to cope with that...) When people come over there's the whole: Not drink or drink when I don't or did fancy it; eating, ditto; keep Fluffhead up when he needs to sleep etc. Yes, by Boxing Day I have caught the Bah Humbug most of the other people I know in life seem to have had already.
...But just for the run-up, and those special 2 days of the Eve and the Day...I can play at making it How It Could Be, in my little unit, a thing OURS, a thing happy and shiny, and full of good food, cuddling...and, well, Pepto Bismol, probably.
Apologies for the lack of all the links I could have done on this post. No time - will try and do them later, ok?