Friday 30 December 2011

Ten Things - Christmas High & Lows

I was writing a Highs and Lows List before Christmas, ten things I was loving and ten things I was hating, and the why and wherefores of each. One of the things on my ‘hate’ list was TV shows I really like being cancelled and in the ‘Love’ list was the show Community, a shining beacon of awesome in the grey world of endless wank such as Two and a Half Who Gives a Crap. Suddenly, Community was taken off the new year line up by NBC and is as of now still at risk of cancellation. This horrid news pretty much took all the drive out of me to finish the list. It was a very ‘of the moment’ post, and who would have thought the moment could be *that* fleeting! The world has changed again and the context is lost. Therefore, I decided to take the premise and apply to a different, more seasonal format, that being, Christmas highs and lows, ten things I love about it and ten things I hate.  

You may be thinking, what is there to hate about Christmas? That wonderful, splendiferous day of joy? Well, quite a lot actually. Just like anything in life, there are good points and bad points. I personally think it’s healthy to acknowledge the bad bits and accept them as part of the whole. Also, the catharsis of voicing the negatives, leaves the way clear to list the real reasons to be jolly. So here we go...

Hate List

1.       Expectation.
Expectation is one aspect of the season that's guaranteed to put everyone under such immense pressure that snapping points are all but inevitable. Perfection simply does not, and cannot, exist. More than that, perfection is boring, and it is never a reflection of our true selves or our loved ones. But we all, to a man, at this time of year, worry as the day draws near that we’ve forgotten someone or something, without which the whole affair will be ruined. Despite this, deep down we know that the only thing that can really ruin the day is ourselves. You will always forget something and the unexpected will happen sending your careful planning into chaos, but it’s your choice as to whether you decide to let it put a downer on the whole day as a result. You cannot legislate for what the world will decide to throw at you, just do your best and do it well, and the day will be what it is. 

2.       Consumerism
This is the idea that in order to show someone how much we love them, we have to buy them the biggest bestest newest thing, and the sooner the better because what if everyone else has it and you miss out? Keeping up with Jones’s mentality will always make you feel inadequate if you let it. I defy anyone not to feel a little kick in the stomach when they’ve bought their partner a nice new piece of technology, only to find that their friend has bought their partner the same thing only it also fires rockets and glows in the dark. The thought really is what counts at Christmas, and learning to appreciate the little things, means that we can take far more joy in them. A little gift that was bought with only you in mind, that is likely to be something that only you will appreciate, is a thousand times better than the latest Blue Ray DVD player or games console. We know this, we just forget it in all the chaos.

3.       Families
Left to their own devices and without external influences enforcing consideration and politeness, families can revert to the worst aspects of their bad behaviours and traditional roles. When you throw in copious amounts of alcohol (Christmas day being the only day of the year where it is acceptable to drink Sherry before ten in the morning) the situation can deteriorate quite rapidly, and before you know it, a year's worth of tension explodes all over your turkey dinner. The thing is that these are the people you love most in the world. This is mostly why they drive you more potty than anyone else, because what the rest of the world does can't affect you in the same way, but it affects you when they do it. We are more honest with our family than anyone else because we can be, but sometimes we would do well to remember that a little bit of consideration and just basically being nice, goes a long way to making our nearest and dearest feel appreciated. Because let’s face it, these are the people who put up with you all year round, not just for Christmas.

4.       Christmas Number One
This used to be a thing of joy, with Slade and Wham and all the rest, and now it’s the manufactured predictable promotion of whatever dimwit won the X Factor with their (usually) uninspired rendition of a formerly beloved pop song. There is something incredibly soulless about the whole affair nowadays. We are told what to appreciate, enjoy and buy, basically, and I find it incredibly disheartening that the majority of the population seem happy to go along with this arrangement. I’d even take the days of Bob the Builder and Mr Blobby topping the charts, as at least with them being children’s characters, they had some actual contextual relevance to Christmas. But all this pomp and ceremony for recording artists whose albums will be filling the shelves in Poundland six months later? The word overrated doesn’t even begin to cover it.

5.       Office Parties
There are some things you just don’t need to see. Really, really, don’t need to see. One of those things would be your colleagues cutting loose and expressing thoughts and opinions that were perhaps best left in the dark recesses of their brain. We need a level of professionalism in work that doesn’t apply to our social lives. We need to be able to work together and get along amicably. We don’t need awkward revelations and dodgy dances burned onto our retinas. ‘Nuff said ;O)

6.       Blind Panic
As the time ticks by and the advent chocolates stack up as you forget to eat them in your haste, all the weeks of careful planning begin to given way to inevitable panic which can leave your rational mind far behind as you find yourself nearly in tears at the local Tesco desperately trying to locate one last pack of sausages in bacon. I myself, am a panicker by nature, and I have to try to calm myself down in order to think methodically and actually be productive. This year in particular things went a bit haywire and life got in the way of my careful planning. But this event actually helped me to realise how unnecessary the panic aspect of the season is. Having said that, I’m sure I’ll panic again next year, along with the rest of the population!

7.       Snow.
Snow can and will, eventually, drive you bananas during the winter season. What starts as something beautiful and festive rapidly becomes dangerous and ultimately depressing. The day to day reality of it is vast piles of shitty slush that cover your shoes and make your toes go numb and black ice that can make even the most sure footed individual go arse over tit! ‘Snow’ days off work are inevitably a cost to you personally, rather than a boon, when that time spent struggling to get into work, failing, coming back home, and being unable to do anything useful like shopping or running errands, is taken back as holiday or unpaid leave. This is not to mention the cost of keeping your home to an acceptable temperature in order to keep yourself warm and prevent your external pipework from freezing. Ahem.

8.       The Loss of Belief
The loss of belief in Father Christmas does remove the magic from Christmas somewhat. The cold reality that we put the presents in our stockings, rather than some God like figure who can travel the world at immense speed consuming more alcohol than Oliver Reed while still being able to get down every chimney like a Ninja despite being massively obese and somewhat elderly, is horrible. Of course there is no magic, you fools. There never was. That realisation is like a cold bucket of puke being put in front of you. Merry fucking Christmas indeed.

9.       New Year’s Resolutions
This year I will eat less, exercise more, worry less, be more considerate in my thoughts and deeds, read more, learn a new craft, write more letters, drink less alcohol, watch less TV, save some money, be more honest about money, give more to charity, write a novel, be more impulsive, be less angered by the rest of the world, buy more Fairtrade items, be more outspoken and remember to call my distant friends more…

What will actually happen? I will drag myself kicking and screaming through the painful, cold, wet and downright GREY month that is January, feel the genuine renewing rush of relief when the end and payday finally approach, and continue on in the same old winging it manner that I always do. Any changes that will happen generally take place over longer periods of time and with less consideration. But if I can keep but one thing on the list going, I suppose it's still a list worth making.

10.   The January Comedown
This comedown begins before the turkey has even had time to cool. In fact, as per usual, on the 27th December this week I found Easter eggs in the local supermarket again. This is the mental world that we live in. We spend weeks building up to something that we are then supposed to forget about almost immediately. The problem is that whatever you have done for Christmas your brain has literally turned off and focused on enjoying yourself, so turning your brain back on again is hard work. Why can’t we be left to enjoy that feeling for a little bit longer? Before we are pushed towards the next thing?

Love list

1.       Snow
Snow is awesome though, isn’t it? No matter what the practical consequences of it, nothing can beat the look of pure, brilliant, fresh fallen snow, sparkling in the winter sun. Our life is just a collection of moments anyway, nothing stays the same forever, but we can experience the joy of something in that moment. The first proper snowfall remains one of the most exciting and truly magical things that we experience. No matter how old you are, snow is awesome. Fact.

2.       Baking
The first year I did this, I did it because it was a fortnight from Christmas and I realised that I didn’t have any money to get my friends or family the gifts I would like. But I didn’t want to not give anyone a gift either. So I opened a couple of cookery books that I had been given and the rest is history. I try to attempt different things each year, but carry through the more successful and well liked ones. Careful planning helps massively with this, but mostly it’s just about getting on and doing it. I always reach a point toward the end where I could quite happily throw the rolling pin through the window, but I now accept this as part of my baking process. And once the results are all packaged up, there is a sense of achievement which can’t be beaten.

3.       Family
As explored a bit in the entry above, Christmas really should be the time to stop and appreciate the support system that you do have, and enjoy the company of the people you love. It’s rare in any family that you have anyone’s full attention for a length of time, because there is always something else to be getting on with. That’s life, unfortunately. But Christmas is the day when you stop and listen to each other. That’s another reason why being abroad this year was so nice, no housework or similar distractions, being cooked for and cleaned up after, the only thing I had to focus on was my partner, which was lovely.

4.       Friends
As you get a bit older, you find that living away from your parents or old family groups gives you more time and inclination to arrange things at Christmas with your friends, who are, let’s face it, just an extension of your family anyway. You end up doing what you always do, drinking, eating and talking arse. But with paper hats on. Friends are the people you share your everyday relaxo time with and Christmas is just an excuse to do even more of this favoured pastime. And to show your friends how much you appreciate them. Even if they are dumbasses ;o)

5.       Father Christmas
The whole concept of Father Christmas is quite brilliant. As a kid, you utterly believe in this man, and his flying reindeer and his elves' ability to make X-boxes in their workshops using rudimentary tools and off-cuts of wood. It's awful when you get older and have to acknowledge your doubts, when you have to start accepting logic over wishful thinking. But I cannot wait to perpetrate the myth again when I have children. I do think that in itself brings some of the magic back. As they say in Miracle on 34th Street, adults have faith in all sorts of things without the need for actual evidence to support their faith, so with that in mind, it’s as logical, rational and acceptable to believe in the big man himself as it is any other belief system really. Besides, have you ever thought that maybe he only stops visiting because you’ve stopped believing?!

6.       The Stories
The Night Before Christmas, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Christmas stories are an integral part of this time of year, and continuation of the magic. It’s not just for children either, a ghost story set at Christmas seems to have greater resonance than at other times of the year. Maybe it’s because it's a moment in time when everything takes on a greater significance. We take stock of where we are in life, who we’re with and who we’ve lost. That’s why A Christmas Carol is by far one the best stories ever written. And every interpretation of it since never fails to carry resonance with the reader or viewer, from A Muppet’s Christmas Carol to  Scrooged. Even It’s a Wonderful Life is super dark when you think of it, a man thinking of reasons not to kill himself. But as Abed pointed out in the most wonderful Community holiday special, forcing things to be bright just makes the darkness underneath even darker. The darkness of the Christmas stories is the draw of them to be honest, it makes the brightness, when it comes, even brighter, because it has been earned. Plus we all like a good scare, at any time of the year!

7.       Christmas Number One
The exception to this terrible X Factor Christmas number one rule came in 2009, when a Facebook campaign persuaded millions to purchase the old classic by Rage Against the Machine, Killing in the Name. This was a stoke of pure genius and it was JOYOUS to have a song at the top of the festive charts which literally said, ‘Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me.’ I loved the song anyway, but even more so now as it actually gives me a little buzz to think of this reaching number one, in despite of what we should have been buying, eh?

8.       Christmas Dinner
This is the best meal of the year. It really and truly is. Of course it helps that my partner is an excellent cook, but I think as long as you do cook, the amount of richness and decadence packed into one meal means that it doesn’t matter how good you are, you’re onto a winner! Our Christmas dinner was a bit different this year, a 6 course meal at Ludens really was special! But I also (greedily) missed our dinner at home. But you can’t have it all can you? Well, I think we can manage a small feast sometime soon to make up for it!

9.       The pause from the rat race
I, like many others, work during the period between Christmas and New Year. For those of you that don’t, we are out there, trust me. The phones still have to be answered and someone has to be there in case something does go horrifically wrong. But it’s hard to focus and find the motivation as your brain slows to an all-but stop. It's not as though you can get back into the working efficiency frame of mind, as it's generally quiet anyway, and there is no point getting yourself back into gear only to swing back into holiday mode for New Year’s Eve. But… this is not a bad thing, it’s really not. I don’t care if you’re religious or not, I don’t care that I’m not religious; we all need a break. Christmas forces us all to stop for a moment and kick back, eat too much, drink too much, and enjoy each other’s company. Call it Christmas, call it the Winter Solstice, call it whatever you want, it’s the light in the cold dark winter months. We work hard all year round just to make ends meet, a thankless and never ending task. I can safely say that we all earn this, and we may as well enjoy it, ‘cos it’ll be over before you know it!

10.   That warm fuzzy feeling of fuzziness
This is the bit that makes Christmas really. It’s not the food or the presents or the company, even, it’s that feeling. The feeling that makes you feel just that bit more generous, carefree, giddy and content. When you’re sat there, half pissed, with a cracker hat and all your Christmas clothes on a once, the central heating turned up and the tree lights are twinkling off the shiney baubles, and the muppets start singing 'it's true where ever you find love, it feels like Christmas’ and you catch your breath in your chest like the soppy bugger that you are... That’s Christmas, that feeling. And whatever you do, where ever you spend your day and however you see in your New Year, you’ll get that feeling. It’s why we do it, really.

In conclusion, I really do wish you all a very merry Christmas, and I hoped you see in the New Year in awesome style. I know shortly we’ll be back in the grey of the day to day, and everyone will want everything done immediately and you’ll be running to catch your feet the whole time…

But we’re not there yet. This is the moment now. So enjoy it!

Chrissy X

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