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

The Surprise Seasonal Quandary, by Sophie Hannah

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

I find I respond best to an impending Christmas if I regard it as a puzzle: "This has to be the case, and so does this, and so does this, so what combination of circumstances is going to make all these details work together to form a coherent whole?" I plan my crime novels in exactly the same way.

Christmas is a brilliant opportunity to get to know those close to you a bit better. It acts as a showcase for people's true personalities, the ones they might be able to hide quite effectively the rest of the year. Your actions, the way you behave, count for more on this one day than on any other. Everyone's sitting around eating, drinking, unable to escape from one another, focusing on what it's like to spend an entire day in the company of X or Y. Do you want your relatives to say, "Did you see what a fuss she made about nothing? And on Christmas Day, too!"? Or, "Notice how even at Christmas he's incapable of putting a smile on his face."? The basic rule is: if this is what you're like on Christmas Day, then this is what you're like.

Another thing I love about Christmas is what I call the Surprise Seasonal Quandary (SSQ). It's different every year, which adds an element of suspense. Last year, the woman who runs the crche at my health club told me that, although the crche was officially open for two hours on Christmas Eve morning, no one else had booked their children in, and if I also refrained from booking mine in, she could have Christmas Eve off, which she would really, really like to do. I really, really wanted to have a nice, relaxing swim on Christmas Eve before a 10-day full-on hosting stint with children dripping from my every limb, but I didn't want to ruin her Christmas. On the other hand, the crche was open, and she was supposed to be working in it. If she'd wanted the day off, why hadn't she booked it as holiday and given the health club time to replace her? I consulted a few non-experts (the problem with the SSQ is that you can never find an expert; the issues aren't the sort that anyone really wants to specialise in) and before I knew it I was embroiled in a heated debate about oppressed workers and middle-class complacency astonishingly, the name "Bob Cratchett" was dropped into the dispute more than once.

In the end, I dealt with it in the most immature and unhealthy way possible: I didn't send my kids to the crche, but I resented the (as I saw it) political-emotional blackmail so much that I spent months nurturing a grudge and plotting to oust all my significant others in favour of people who were much more right-wing.

This year, the SSQ is a particularly tough one. I haven't yet consulted anyone about it. My daughter Phoebe has been invited to a girls-only party on the day you are reading this. Trouble is, the party is at the home of friends of ours who we normally visit en famille. There are four of them and four of us, and it would not occur to my son Guy that he is any less a friend of the two Cookson girls than Phoebe is. If I tell him that Phoebe's invited to a Christmas party and he isn't, he'll be outraged. To be honest, I don't blame him. If he were older and had reached the "I hate girls" stage, it would be no problem he wouldn't want to go anyway. But he's only three, and wouldn't understand why suddenly there was a special treat for Phoebe and the two Cookson girls from which he was excluded.

Trouble is, if I don't let Phoebe go to the party because of the random sexist edict, then I'll feel I'm depriving her. So the only option, as far as I can see, is for me to host a lavish kids' Christmas bash on the same day, open to children of all genders. This is what I'm going to do, but I can't help thinking it's a bit of an odd way to arrive at the decision to throw a party. Am I just a nutter, seeing real life as if it's an episode of The Moral Maze, or are other people also forced into behaving weirdly as a result of SSQs?

Sophie Hannah's latest poetry collection is 'Pessimism for Beginners' (Carcanet)'

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Save the Tiger: Meet the hunters tasked with protecting Russia's rare Amur tiger

    Hunters protect Russia's rare Amur tiger

    In an unusual move, wildlife charities have enlisted those who kill animals to help save them. Oliver Poole travels to Siberia to investigate
    Transfers: How has your club fared in summer sales?

    How has your club fared in summer sales?

    Who have bagged the bargain buys and who have landed the giant turkeys
    Warwick Davis: The British actor on Ricky Gervais, how the Harry Potter set became his office, and why he'd like to play a spy

    'I'm a realist; I know how hard this business is'

    Warwick Davis on Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter and his perfect role
    The best swim shorts for men: Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer

    The best swim shorts for men

    Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer
    Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

    Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

    Meet the couple blamed for bringing Lucifer into local politics
    Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

    Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

    Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
    Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

    Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

    When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
    5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

    In grandfather's footsteps

    5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
    Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

    Martha Stewart has flying robot

    The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
    Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

    Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

    Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
    A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

    A tale of two presidents

    George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

    The dining car makes a comeback

    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
    Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

    Gallery rage

    How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

    Eye on the prize

    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
    Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

    Women's rugby

    Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup