9.10am on Christmas Eve morning in Dublin, and I’m awoken by a call from an irate relative, demanding to know why I didn’t call her at nine o’clock sharp. This, in a nutshell, is why I hate Christmas. The social pressure that turns perfectly reasonable adults into extras from a Mad Max film, drowning in giftwrap as their sharpened teeth glint with half-chewed tinsel.
“Are you at the train station?” the conversation continues.
“No, am I supposed to be at the train station. Was I told to be?”
“Well, no. But you should know enough to be.”
There’s no way to continue transcribing this conversation without our sub-editors suffering a complete mental breakdown, but suffice to say I’m handed my own gift wrapped rear-end down the phoneline, before hanging up, still clueless as to the reasoning or need for the exchange.
I’ve often wondered why Christmas has this effect on people; why we allow our stress levels to go so dangerously unchecked. The whole thing started when a woman gave birth, virtually unassisted, up against a donkey. Doesn’t that put the queues in John Lewis into perspective?
Maybe, as a species, we’re actually allergic to Christmas trees. Perhaps dragging these coniferous evergreens into our homes for a month results in some kind of chemical imbalance. The type that leaves us howling at loved ones when the turkey and vegetable cooking times go slightly out of sync. An experiment: rub some conifer resin into your skin. See if you punch an old woman at the post office. Report back.
The only part of Christmas I can tolerate is the week before when people are more interested in meeting you for a festive tipple than doggedly insisting you eat their undercooked brussel sprouts. This year it took four days to get out of snowy London, involving last minute ferries and spiralling costs. My stay with friends in Dublin had to be accordingly cut short, and the last two days have been a haze of making up for lost time, calling from house to house as I imbibe the Christmas cheer, before spilling it all over the carpet
Which is why I woke up on the morning of Christmas eve on the couch of a friend, after a night of hearty carousing, crunched up against the cold with two friends, both still asleep in a seated position. We’re cuddled together like drunk little elves at the back of Santa’s sleigh, with only our jackets and party hats for warmth.
As I’m trying to extricate myself, I notice a mess of charred cotton on the floor. I dimly recall that after trudging here through the snow, we had hung our wet socks over the fire, stocking-like, in a festively pauperish kind of way. Mine, naturally, kamikazied their way into the hearth itself, and our caterwaling to “Fairytale of New York” had been interrupted by a mass stamping of feet in an attempt to prevent the house burning down.
Later that day, my odyssey finally comes to an end, rocking up to Casa del Moran. Iced pipes mean no running water, and there’ve been rolling powercuts all week. Despite the sub-zero temperatures, words get heated and tempers flare. A lot of it, sadly, is my own fault. Two days in the family home and I regress to the petulant teenager that used to stomp around the house, slamming doors and feigning veganism. I’m behaving like a swarm of bees trapped in a bag of sick, and I’m fully aware of it. Yet I can’t stop, stranded as I am in the middle of nowhere, nine miles west of the nearest roadsign.
It’s not uncommon of course. My facebook and twitter streams of the last two days could provide a scientific measure for how long it takes a young adult to snap, in the face of the subtle undermining and outright smothering, that makes up much of Christmas. It’s a vicious circle. We act like petulant children, and are treated so. Which is fair enough, really.
Maybe we should all abandon this myth of the perfect family Christmas? At least during the wilderness years when there’s very little to bind it together. Young males, I imagine, would rather wake up Christmas morning on a beer stained couch with their friends, than in the converted study that was once their childhood bedroom. Ageing parents, I hazard a guess, would rather not break their backs at shops and stoves for youngsters still too juvenile to appreciate it.
A cessation of festive hostilities, perhaps. Until the younger faction have produced a few infant troops to act as Christmas canon-fodder. Our newborn babies could keep the doting grandparents busy, while we all pop outside for a sneaky fag, and a collective sigh of relief.
When you think about it, isn’t that what Christmas is all about?