Friday 24 December 2010
Charles Nevin: Forget your woes and find a reason to celebrate
This Christmas is supposed to be the most miserable ever – but our writer has found 25 compelling reasons for good cheer
Ho, ho, ho! Come on, everybody: we know about the weather and the travel and the cuts and the queues and the sheer grind and repetitiveness of the whole Xmas Thing, lock, stocking and carol, and how this is supposed to be the most miserable one ever. Which is why, with tinselled ado, and following in the crunchy footsteps of such greats as James "It's A Wonderful Life" Stewart, Bing "Holiday Inn" Crosby, and the even more venerable Sir Cliff "Mistletoe & Wine" Richard, we present 25 Compelling Reasons To Celebrate Christmas.
1. It's here at last. Thank God!
2. Well, apart from the joy of that last minute mall sweep as the canned Carols and M Carey get ever more insistent, the twinkling lights get a fuzzy corona, your head gets lighter, the smell of the perfume ever stronger, you've still not got them all and the temptation to plastic your way out of trouble smiles and beckons even more maniacally than Jason Donovan in that Iceland advert, and dim rememberings that this is what you gave them last year are recklessly cast aside.
3. Even here, though, I can ease your pain by reminding you that there are always people worse off. In 1991, for example, having queued at a Brent Cross hole-in-the-wall for 15 minutes, and having inserted my card, the combination of all the above caused me to forget my pin number. The card was swallowed and the looks round the tree the next day haunt me still.
4. Ghost stories. These and Christmas are thrillingly synonymous. Dickens takes a lot of responsibility, but the dying days and year and flickering fire shadows go back to the woods and the cave and the search for a good reason to stay by the fire and not go out and tackle a cold and potentially very angry hairy mammoth.
5. Which reminds us that this festival has always been madly doctrinally inclusive, having started out as "Ug!" (which it is still called by teenagers) and now known by various appellations depending upon place, belief, and a desire to forget how bloody miserable it is out there, even without a cold and potentially very angry hairy mammoth.
6. Actually, now we're here, it must mean no more of those Xmas ads till early next September, mustn't it, please? Hurrah! Peter Kay, how could you?
7. But a touch of Bah Humbug is good fun as well, isn't it? And while we're on ads, that John Lewis one with Ellie Goulding singing "Your Song" makes this particular sentimental and seasoned Xmas lover want to kick something, very hard. And why is Jason Donovan wearing stockings in the Iceland effort? Very chilly, what with all those fish fingers and goujons, I should have said.
8. Panto. Cross dressing is a vivid reminder of the confounding of convention and licensed mayhem that has always perked up this time, and which has been taken up so enthusiastically this year by the British Airports Authority and Vince Cable. You must love panto: Xmas afternoons, getting dark outside, inside popcorn all over the floor before it starts, sweetly hot and noisy with anticipation. You will have your favourite line; mine is: "Your teeth are like stars – they come out at night". Joan Collins is in Birmingham, by the way, while Pamela Anderson is in Liverpool.
9. The magic creak on the midnight stair.
10. Telly. Never been the same since Morecambe and Wise exited? Please. As one of the few old enough still able to remember, I can assure you they had their disappointments, not least Frank Bough as a dancing sailor. This year, in contrast, we have the said V Cable dancing on Strictly. Will he lead, or will he follow? Will he be treading with his usual delicacy? Will he be wearing that hat, one of the finest additions to the political scene for some time? Will it matter, since, as usual, and also as in the days of M&W, most of us will be deliciously dozing, pinned to our chairs and sofas by that lunch? Excellent.
11. Tipsy aunts, drunken uncles, snoring grannies and mollified mothers-in-law.
12. Michael McIntyre has pointed out the curiousness of Xmas customs: mulled wine, turkey, bread sauce, sprouts: items we happily resist the rest of the year: "Yes, liquid bread, please!". I rather like bread sauce, as it happens, but he makes a good point. The explanation lies in the deep pleasure that the British have taken in grumbling since at least the Romans arrived and did all those celebrated but really irritating things for us, like civilisation. And so, if there's nothing to grumble about, we provide it: bland turkey, bullet sprouts, bitter parsnips, dogged adherence to Delia's rigid regime, up at 4am to put it in the oven: Yes! What a Feast of Frowns! What a Triumph of Turned-up Mouths! Great! But you might remember that the Romans used to store sleeping dormice for winter nibbling, and I know which I prefer.
13. Frank Sinatra's "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas", steering a perfect course between soppy and cynical.
14. The presents! I know, I know, comedy socks, bath salts, the latest volume of Jordan's memoirs, interesting new corkscrew, joke apron, child playing with empty box which contained Ben 10 Action Cruiser or Ladybird 7 in 1 Doll Set, elderly relative looking puzzled by Call of Duty: Black Ops, which has got mixed up with Val Doonican: The Edgy Years. But it's as familiar and reassuring as, well, the new cardigan, isn't it? One tip, though: if you are going to give a goat, do get them something else as well, even if it's only an interesting new corkscrew.
15. The Queen, God bless 'er! Everybody else: see Vince Cable, or Rolf, next Wednesday, BBC 2.
16. The Crackers! Interesting, isn't it, and very much in the spirit of Xmas, how a paper crown confers the exact opposite of a real one? Insist on them, as sometimes it's the only revenge you can take. My top motto: how do you hire a horse? Stand it on some bricks. And those little gifts: toenail cutters, Xmas, why? Oh, all right: "Doctor, I think I'm a ten pound note". "Go Xmas shopping – the change will do you good".
17. The Lights! Still some splendid displays about. I take a small party from our house daily to look through our neighbours's window. I'm not keen on these blue ones, though. Another tip: don't be alarmed when you wake up after that snooze: they're meant to flash like that.
18. And, whatever you do, resist those calls for a walk. Hit that air and you'll regret it. In any case, it's a thinly disguised ploy to get out of the washing-up. Be strong, leave it and sleep till they get back.
19. Games. Monopoly, Cluedo, fine, but, if there are uncles, best to avoid anything involving mistletoe or cupboards. Charades are good. Top tip: stick pillow up jumper and motion at the fireplace: Grate Expectations. I got that from an uncle: they're not all bad, you know.
20. Champagne. Ice cold, mid Xmas morning, transforms the day. Toasts are optional, but I should say Ann Widdecombe, St Julian d'Assange, Shane Warne, Liz Hurley, Wayne Rooney, "Dr" Gillian McKeith, Lord Fellowes of Downton and the Pope deserve thanks for helping us through a difficult year.
21. Carols. Don't be stuffy: you'll miss them, testing keys, hobbling pace and all, when Simon Cowell gets the rights and remixes. And think how many vicars are grateful for the chance to inject some wry impromptu humour this year when announcing In The Bleak Midwinter.
22. Brandy butter.
23. To be honest, I also quite like turkey casserole, turkey curry, spaghetti tacchino, sweet and sour turkey, and turkey surprise (more turkey).
24. The New Year sales have already started.
25. The Spirit of Xmas. This great and ancient festival, larger than any one creed, as big as humanity, was summed up for me one midnight, at a church service of little obvious distinction. The priest, a reticent man, finally concluded his diffident journey through the traditional message of the arrival of a saviour, of peace and goodwill. And then, suddenly, a magnificently over-celebrated member of the congregation cried out, "Hear, hear, Father!", before slumping forward and closing his eyes again. Sacred and profane, fine intent and blowsy execution, in perfect communion. Have a good one.
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