We’ve all seen the film “Deck the Halls”, right? You know the one where Danny DeVito and Matthew Broderick get into a classic American small-town spat over who can have the most amazing Christmas decorations. DeVito’s character aims to have his house lights visible from space, and Broderick, the neighbourhood’s former Christmas kingpin is determined not to be outdone.
From my days living in the States I can attest that truth was more outrageous than fiction. We would visit the family for “the holidays” in Boston and drive around suburbs like Somerville and Saugus screaming with joy at the sheer OTT tackiness of whole streets of competitive Christmas lighting. Extravagant, wasteful, vulgar? Hell, it was fun.
Massachusetts Christmases came to mind at the weekend as I stood outside Selfridges in London’s Oxford Street marvelling at people marvelling at its Christmas displays: “that’s awesome – we’ve got to go in there” said a Geordie girl to her boyfriend, as if it was a surprise to find the store there. The whole world appeared to be entering Selfridges at 4.30pm on Saturday.
For Selfridges, read John Lewis, TopShop or Urban Outfitters: all bursting at the seams; all playing nonsense Christmas songs on a loop; and all staffed by the most helpful, affable and patient young staff, remaining good-humoured in the face of intense provocation despite being on shifts that ended at 11pm! They were certainly more professional than I was all those years ago in Allders of Croydon.
Yes, I did write that. It’s true. I know I’m supposed to find the whole damn Christmas shopping experience horrendous and ungodly, but something strange has come over me.
I actually thought the lights looked great, especially viewing them through the eyes of the countless excited children I saw being photographed against them. Even the Dreamworks-sponsored Regent St ones didn’t offend. At least there were lights. That extends to my neighbourhoods, Hammersmith and Chiswick, where it is so easy to mock the austerity efforts, but just for once, let’s not.
This year, I’m rejecting my usual metropolitan, taste-nazi tendencies. I’m loving how early people are putting up trees, delighting in those that don’t conform to the tyranny of white lights, seeking out the tackiest displays to show the girls, and am even going to break the habit of a lifetime and dress our own tree early this weekend.
Maybe it’s a peculiar mid-life crisis? I stood in the Christmas miracle that is a brand new HMV store behind two women who were buying Sir Cliff Richard calendars, and didn’t roll my eyes, but nodded approvingly.
I know we’re spending money we haven’t got. I know it’s environmentally wasteful and not rooted in religious meaning, but I don’t care. Lay on the tinsel, bring on the turkey and Christmas specials, and put multi-coloured lights on your trees. Banish humbug and enjoy it all just for its own sake. After a tough year, Santa Claus is coming to town, and nobody can persuade me otherwise.
Stefano Hatfield is editorial director of London Live
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