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
Stewart Lee (Gavin Evans)


Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Far Right and Proud: Reggies Yates' Extreme Russia

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West was mobbed in Armenia after jumping into a lake

Arts and Entertainment
The show suffers from its own appeal, being so good as to create an appetite in its viewers that is difficult to sate in a ten episode series

Game of Thrones reviewFirst look at season five contains some spoilers
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench and Kevin Spacey on the Red Carpet for 2015's Olivier Awards

Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awards

Arts and Entertainment
Proving his metal: Ross Poldark (played by Aidan Turner in the BBC series) epitomises the risk-taking spirit of 18th-century mine owners

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne is reportedly favourite to play Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars in dystopian action thriller Mad Max: Fury Road

Arts and Entertainment
Josh, 22, made his first million from the game MinoMonsters

Grace Dent

Channel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
Disgraced Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson
Arts and Entertainment
Game face: Zoë Kravitz, Bruce Greenwood and Ethan Hawke in ‘Good Kill’

film review

Arts and Entertainment
Living like there’s no tomorrow: Jon Hamm as Don Draper in the final season of ‘Mad Men’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
Yaphett Kotto with Julius W Harris and Jane Seymour in 1973 Bond movie Live and Let Die

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
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.

    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
    Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

    UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

    Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
    John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

    ‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

    Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
    Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

    Let the propaganda wars begin - again

    'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

    Japan's incredible long-distance runners

    Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
    Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

    Tom Drury: The quiet American

    His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
    Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

    Beige to the future

    Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

    Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

    More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
    Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

    Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

    The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own