Forget Santa: Christmas is a girl thing

At the Nativity Mary took centre stage and Joseph had a walk-on part. Today it's even worse - men are almost redundant at Christmas

In Jesus, My Boy, currently playing at the Apollo Theatre in London, the writer, John Dowie, sets out to promote the forgotten man of Christmas. That man was Joseph, whose role in the Nativity was to be grateful and humbly accepting of his fate while generally letting his wife and child take the limelight - a very similar reaction, in fact, to the one required of a latter-day male receiving a humorous bubble bath on Christmas morning.

For the fact is that all men are the forgotten men of Christmas. There's just nothing in it for them. They must sit by ever-growing piles of socks, muttering: "Just what I've always wanted", or trying to make their faces do that thing that women's automatically do at this time of year when long-forgotten relatives appear: "light up". In the end they usually have to settle for lighting up a cigarette.

I personally am marginalised in my household from about the start of Advent. That's when my wife begins buying presents, writing cards, making lists, often while listening to loud tapes of Christmas carols to get her in the mood, which is very disturbing when you consider that she's not only Jewish but an atheist.

But Christmas isn't a religious thing any more. It's a woman's thing, and as the festival has grown, so it's become even more of a woman's thing; one big, stressful, inter-household domestic arts competition. In America, women are literally going mad while "doing" Christmas, according to the blueprint of the lifestyle guru, Martha Stewart. The centrepiece of the Martha Stewart Christmas spread is her famously challenging gingerbread house, which one of her disciples once wrote in to say - with pride and without bitterness - that she had completed after an entire year of more or less continuous work (longer, in all probability, than it would have taken her to build a real house).

In Britain, the obstacle course is laid out by Delia Smith. Consider the subtitle of her book, Delia Smith's Christmas: "One hundred and thirty recipes... for Christmas." The tension mounts steadily throughout the book, which culminates in a terrifying chapter entitled "The last thirty-six hours".

And what's happening to the men as the clock ticks towards the glorious apotheosis/ tear-stained nadir that is Christmas lunch? Well, they're sharing the highs, of course, as when the salt-crusted mini baked potatoes with cold chive hollandaise approximate to the photograph on page 146... but then again, who really cares about that?

They're also sharing the lows, which tend to be more memorable, and louder. These usually occur in our house as my wife is baking her Traditional Christmas Biscuits for serving at a soiree on Christmas Eve. Now, she's superb at most of the Christmas arts, but not great at baking, and the making of the Traditional Christmas Biscuits is traditionally preceded by the throwing out of the lot from last year.

Generally the Biscuits burn while I'm supposed to be watching them (except that I didn't hear her say that I should be watching them), or I accidentally throw out the mixture. Or whatever. The upshot is that I end up feeling like Johnny to her Fanny Cradock, George to her Mildred: a wretched lump, called on to help, yet unable to; and deep down I know that my help is in fact not wanted because my wife likes doing Christmassy things and wants to do them unaided.

That's my rationale, anyway, and I'm sticking to it. I've got enough on my hands doing the alien Christmas tasks which are entrusted to me, such as the sending of Christmas cards to those of our friends who are more mine than hers.

This year, after the usual agonising, I have selected an image of a graveyard - a little downbeat maybe, but sober-sided and dignified: a good, manly image. All the profits from these cards go to charity (I think they're in aid of the dead or something) so that's good too. But I'm worried about the inscription: "May the peace and joy of Christmas be with you through the year." That word "joy"... it's not really me.

A proper, man's Christmas card would say something cautious like: "Wishing you a trouble-free festive season", or "Here's Hoping You Can Get Away to the Football on Boxing Day". Then you might not feel that every card you sent was a betrayal of your masculinity.

Another problem area for men is the wrapping and giving of presents. There should be degree courses in this, the syllabus to include subjects such as "How to control Sellotape" and "What constitutes a nice pair of earrings?" At best, the presents I give my wife can be exchanged for something she really wants, whereas hers to me might have been the product of mind- reading. In this context it's absurd that Father Christmas - that paragon of wrapping and giving - is a man. What Father Christmas should be is a woman, which he's no doubt already become in the more PC areas of London.

That said, though, I have been on an upward curve in gift-giving ever since I was 10. In that year I gave my father a stone for Christmas. Not just an ordinary stone, of course. No, I'd taken some trouble to write his name, "Dad", in green felt-tip across the top of it. He approved of this gift because he didn't have to pretend to be very grateful (it was only a stone, after all) and at least it wasn't aftershave. (Note to gift-giving aunts: men do not use aftershave.)

My father is a kind person but like a lot of men left to their own devices, a Christmas sceptic. And he was left to his own devices, my mother having died when I was young. So when, as a small boy, I'd ask him how Santa Claus could come down our chimney when we had a gas fire pretty firmly cemented in there, he would just shrug and say: "Magic", in a take-it- or-leave-it tone. No elaborately constructed whimsical explanations; no bullshit. Of course, shopping was torture to him, which is why his Christmas present to me was usually a tenner whipped out of his wallet as he grudgingly stuffed the turkey.

"Don't spend it all at once," he'd say, as he handed it over. No "merry Christmas" or "compliments of the season", because those words are not designed to be uttered between two males.

At my wife's prompting, we strive to give our own children a cosy, magical Delia Smith-type Christmas. And one of the 50 or so tasks on her Christmas list is the leaving out of a glass of port for Santa, which I am required to down before going to bed (no great hardship, admittedly) just in case our forensically astute boys smell a rat come the morning. But still they're in tears by 8am as children always will be as long as the words "batteries not included" are part of the English language.

On reflection, I am aware that a slight note of curmudgeonliness may be detectable in this article. But I'm not entirely pessimistic. The miserableness of men at Christmas could be reduced by the simple expedient of reducing Christmas. And who knows? A lot of women might find they like it that way too.

Arts and Entertainment

game of thrones reviewWarning: spoilers

Arts and Entertainment
The original Star Wars trio of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill

George Osborne confirms Star Wars 8 will film at Pinewood Studios in time for 4 May


Arts and Entertainment
Haunted looks: Matthew Macfadyen and Timothy Spall star in ‘The Enfield Haunting’

North London meets The Exorcist in eerie suburban drama


Arts and Entertainment

Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year


Arts and Entertainment
Kit Harington plays MI5 agent Will Holloway in Spooks: The Greater Good

'You can't count on anyone making it out alive'film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
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.

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before