Is Christmas a nightmare?

DEBATE

Bulging stockings, 'The Sound of Music', old friends who you never get to see at any other time of year - these are Chloe Walker's favourite things. But Christmas represents everything that Jenny Turner detests - central heating turned on full with the windows closed, relations you can't relate to. She'd rather be doing her accounts

Where would we be without Midnight Mass, Santa's grotto, Slade and sheer excess, says Chloe Walker?

Who says Christmas is just for kids? I love it. A few years ago my two sisters and I - all in our late twenties - even contemplated exchanging our usual Christmas stockings (pillow cases) for more ample-sized duvet covers. In the end we felt it was probably a little hopeful and decided against it, but the fact remains that there's still nothing better than waking up to find a stocking at the end of your bed.

While this is the climax of the celebrations, most of the excitement for me lies in the anticipation and planning, which must start early. Don't get me wrong, I'm not one of those people who buys their cards and wrapping paper in the January sales. In fact I take a rather dim view of that kind of behaviour. But I do believe that at the end of August, when the department stores swap their garden furniture and barbecue sets for baubles and tinsel, it's time to start getting into the festive spirit - and so my annual hunt to find the finest decorations on offer also begins. (In fact, I'm on a constant quest for baubles wherever I go and my collection includes gems from Canada, the US, Belgium, France, Italy and Spain). Over the next few months my Christmas cache grows and grows until, come the first weekend in December, my living room resembles Santa's grotto. Each year the grotto becomes a little more kitsch because for me Christmas is not about being restrained but about being loud and excessive.

Naturally, the appeal of Christmas has no limits. I mean what other time of year do I have such a good excuse to indulge in my three favourite pastimes - shopping, eating and drinking? And not forgetting, of course, the chance to enjoy lazy afternoons in front of the television watching The Sound of Music for the umpteenth time. Because I always start the shopping early, invariably I end up buying more and, as for the eating and drinking, I gleefully partake in the port and brandy butter, safe in the illusion that the new year will bring an all-new fitness regime to see me in trim for summer.

But, as well as being a period of orgiastic over-indulgence, Christmas is also a very nostalgic time for me. From the candle-lit carol services to the continual air play of Band Aid's "Do they Know it's Christmas?" (which brings tears to my eyes the first time I hear it every year), there's nothing like Christmases past to make Christmas present so great.

Wrapped up in all the nostalgia is the hooking up with old friends and family. I don't live in my childhood town anymore so when I go home at Christmas I return to the teenage haunts and see all the old faces out and about, most of them just home for Christmas too. There's something particularly exciting and special about being in a place that feels like home even though you don't spend the rest of the year there.

As you'll have worked out Christmas is absolutely my favourite time of year. Where would we be without crackers and Midnight Mass, Slade and Cliff Richard? Whatever your feelings towards the season of goodwill, there's no denying winter would be a bleak season without it and to those who reckon they dislike it: Bah Humbug!

Tension, misery, giant jars of Quality Street - not for me, says Jenny Turner.

I can actually smell it, you know: a hint of something bad and stinky clogging up the autumn air. It starts in early October, and probably in Woolworths, which is normally my favourite shop. It's purple and red and gold and silver. It's central heating turned on full with all the windows sealed. It's giant plastic jars of Quality Street and Roses, and stuffing your face with the sickly-sweetest of them until you can feel the pimples swelling on your face. It's horrible colours and horrible people and horrible sweets crammed together. It's Christmas and I hate it. Bleurgh.

When I was a child, I particularly loved our tree, which was white and came in sections. It was 10 feet high when fully assembled, and like the present-day rainforest, sustained many species of animal life. There was a colony of cardboard rabbits, several fairies, and a nest of furry mice living in the fairy-lit crannies of its branches. I used to kneel by the tree for hours, worshipping its wonderfulness, my little hands folded over as I said a silent prayer. This is one reason I hate Christmas. It reminds me of parts of myself I'd prefer I'd never had.

When I got a little older, I started noticing an interesting thing. Me and my brothers had billions of uncles and aunties. We used to go to the house of one or the other of them every Christmas afternoon. They were countless, when you included grown-up cousins and their girlfriends and second cousins once removed. They communicated by shouting at each other, all at once, and waving their arms about, and laughing very, very loudly at really unfunny jokes. It all seemed terribly warm and jolly, but I never quite got the hang of it. "My, how you've grown!" they would occasionally shout at me.

So that's another reason I hate Christmas. It makes me think of tension, and mystery, and watching people communicate with each other in a way I don't quite get. In stuffy, dry-aired houses, surrounded by the crumbs at the bottom of crisp packets, and lardy fruitcake, and bits torn off the corners of people's Christmas presents, where the paper looks all shiny because it has sticky tape stuck to the top.

I could go on and on about all the things I most hate and the curious way that all of them have an epicentre in Christmas. The list would include such horrors as darkness, fitted carpets, being talked down to, suet puddings, Denis Norden, sweet sherry, little girls who have been overdressed by their mums. And perhaps one of those nice media shrinks I see writing in the papers would care to offer an opinion as to whether I hate Christmas because it has all these things in it, or hate these things because they're components of festive fun. Which comes first, pray tell me? The turkey or the forcemeat I see spilling from its bum?

There are some things I quite like about late December. I like the bank holidays and the opportunities they offer for peace on earth and utter solitude for me. I like some of the films on the television, and I am extremely fond of Stollen and Brussels sprouts. A couple of years ago, I spent the dread day at home on my lonesome ownsome, with a ready-to- eat salmon meal from Marks & Spencer, doing my accounts. I shan't be doing anything so sulky this year, but I'd honestly have to tell you that so far, that was by far the nicest Christmas I've ever spent.

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