Christmas tales 2007: our favourite writers rant, reflect and reminisce

Comfort, joy and 'Kill Bill', by Joanne Harris

For weeks we've been exhorting you to spend, spend, spend, but now that the presents have (with any luck) been bought and the preparations are complete, it's time to ponder the deeper meaning of Christmas. We asked our favourite writers to rant, reflect or reminisce on a festive theme. As Ronald Hutton explains, the last thing you should feel at this time of year is guilty, so sit down with a mince pie and enjoy

Christmas. Each year I await it with dread. Bad light, grey weather, the mounting pressure of expectation, the promise of tensions within the family, the garishness of the shop displays, the return of Phil Spector's Christmas Album and the tawdriness of the advertising world, promising us the magic of Christmas in such questionable forms as: plastic toys, frozen prawns, cushions, air freshener, CDs and gardening implements and all for low, low prices!

And this is all supposed to be fun? The magic of Christmas? Don't make me laugh. Never has magic been so debased. Never has the gulf between reality and dream been so cruelly exposed. And as someone who prefers a small gathering of friends to a large, formal dinner party, Christmas Day can be a disappointment, too often dominated by the inevitable stress and bickering that comes of bringing together too many family members with too much bottled Christmas cheer...

The truth is, we do these things because we feel we must. And to be obliged to do anything even something we enjoy is to take away much of its charm. I like the traditions of Christmas. I like giving presents; I like to cook; I like to see my family and friends. But I also like spontaneity; I like to feel I have a choice. Which is why I find myself, year after year, wishing I could do something else.

Last year, Christmas was cancelled. It wasn't a deliberate move, but a combination of tight deadlines, bad planning and crises within the family meant that, for the first time in over a decade, nothing was organised that year, and the three of us my husband Kevin, our daughter Anouchka and I spent Christmas Day at home, alone. Several well-meaning people commented that it must have been "rather grim". In fact, it was the best Christmas that I can ever remember.

I had been working hard for the past four months, trying to finish my new book on time. It still wasn't finished; and I'd been regretting the promise I'd made to my publishers that it would be ready by January. All my energy went into work; I could hardly remember what it was like to take time out with my family. But I'd promised Anouchka that at least we'd have Christmas Day together, and that this year we'd do whatever she liked.

I just want it to be fun, she said.

Fun? OK. I can live with that.

I got up early that morning and worked until the others got up. Then I put my laptop away and made cups of tea for everyone. We all sat around the tree the tree is my favourite part of Christmas and opened our presents to each other. There weren't many, but they were well-chosen besides, I'd rather have a single present that means something to me than something expensive and meaningless, bought in haste, to impress. Then Anouchka made lunch Mexican enchiladas, which she'd just learnt how to make in cookery that term and a big dish of nachos and cheese, which we ate in front of the TV, like slobs, swigging Coke out of the can, watching Kill Bill on DVD (it is, for some reason, Anouchka's comfort movie). Then we played a game of table football before going back for Kill Bill 2 and if all of this sounds very dull and ordinary, then maybe that's the point. Maybe we should face the possibility that the idea of the ready-made, one-Christmas-fits-all doesn't work for everyone.

We didn't see anyone that day. We had no expectations. Everything was spontaneous. There wasn't a single moment of stress. We laughed like crazy all afternoon though I couldn't tell you what about. And there was definitely something in the air call it magic if you like because that was the happiest Christmas that any of us could remember, which makes me think that perhaps, like luck, magic is something we can make for ourselves. It isn't something you can buy. It doesn't come as standard. And you don't need to plan, or to overspend, or to wrack your brains trying to come up with some extraordinary way to celebrate. Because sometimes it's the little things that bring us the greatest pleasure. That's why, once again this year, we'll be making up Christmas as we go along. It may be nothing like last year. It may even be better. And if it's not, at least we'll be doing it ourselves. And if it's magic, so much the better. If not, I'll settle for just having fun.

Joanne Harris's latest novel is 'The Lollipop Shoes' (Doubleday)

Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Oliver
filmTV chef Jamie Oliver turned down role in The Hobbit
The official police photograph of Dustin Diamond taken after he was arrested in Wisconsin
TVDownfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Arts and Entertainment
Clueless? Locked-door mysteries are the ultimate manifestation of the cerebral detective story
booksAs a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Arts and Entertainment
Tracy Emin's 1998 piece 'My Bed' on display at Christie's
artOne expert claims she did not
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
The Baker (James Corden) struggles with Lilla Crawford’s Little Red Riding Hood

film...all the better to bamboozle us
Arts and Entertainment
English: Romantic Landscape

Arts and Entertainment
Laugh a minute: Steph Parker with Nigel Farage

Arts and Entertainment
Comic Ivor Dembina has staged his ‘Traditional Jewish Xmas Eve Show’ for the past 20 years; the JNF UK charity is linked to the Jewish National Fund, set up to fund Jewish people buying land in Palestinian territories

Arts and Entertainment
Transformers: Age of Extinction was the most searched for movie in the UK in 2014

Arts and Entertainment
Mark Ronson has had two UK number two singles but never a number one...yet

Arts and Entertainment
Clara Amfo will take over from Jameela Jamil on 25 January

Arts and Entertainment
This is New England: Ken Cheeseman, Ann Dowd, Frances McDormand and Richard Jenkins in Olive Kitteridge

The most magnificently miserable show on television in a long timeTV
Arts and Entertainment
Andrea Faustini looks triumphant after hearing he has not made it through to Sunday's live final

Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

    A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

    Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
    Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

    Scarred by the bell

    The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
    Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

    Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

    Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
    Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

    Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

    Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
    The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

    The Locked Room Mysteries

    As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
    Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

    How I made myself Keane

    Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
    Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

    Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

    Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
    A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

    Wear in review

    A look back at fashion in 2014
    Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

    Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

    Might just one of them happen?
    War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

    The West needs more than a White Knight

    Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
    Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

    'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

    Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
    The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

    The stories that defined 2014

    From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
    Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

    Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

    Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?