Harriet Walker: Christmas is as close to crawling back into the womb as we’re likely to get


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The Independent Online

I love Christmas but don’t worry, I’m not going to proselytise about it. I won’t pretend it’s any more than an excuse for gluttony and for corporations to sell people tat they don’t need. I go into the festive period with my eyes open, thanks very much, and I’m more fascinated than I am fanatical. But I do love it.

I don’t love it as much as my neighbours, mind. For them, the whole of December is one long Vegas of flashing reindeer and enviro-crime (this year the lights went up on 28 November, and three electric sleds litter the front garden like Blackpool illuminations that have detached and blown far from home).

I love Christmas because it’s a chance to regress. And I get time off work. But when you consider the things we like about the festive period (and most of us do, despite the teeth-chewing few who feel compelled at every turn to noisily tell us how they feel), it’s really very odd that anyone likes it at all.

At Christmas we’re taught to celebrate the sort of things we usually look down on, like being nice to each other and eating carbs. We all take a few steps back down the evolutionary ladder, as if Christmas is a little holiday to the 1950s. We feel the webs growing back between our toes and our amoebic sludge lapping at the edges of our designer outfits. Perhaps that’s why we like it: it’s as close to crawling back into the womb as we’re likely to get. It’s a window into the days when life was more simple.

We go home to our parents, whether we’re 24 or 44, and we do so not because we’re Generation Rent, with no room to swing a turkey let alone roast one, but because it’s Christmas, and that’s what you do. One of the things I enjoyed most last year, as I lay in my teenage bedroom, was browsing photos tweeted by people who’d usually describe themselves as grown-ups of the beds they were sleeping in that night. There were football-team duvet covers, Take That pillowcases, beds so narrow for one person that there was clearly no question of anyone joining them in it. “It feels reassuring that everyone else does it too,” I thought, as I turned off the bedside light, with its Laura Ashley lampshade that matches both the wallpaper and curtains fading into darkness.

We do all kinds of things at Christmas that feel delightfully retrogressive and counter-intuitive to the usual daily grind of ambition and steel teeth. We sit around in our jogging bottoms all day, not because we’re feckless, but because it’s sanctioned. We watch films we’ve seen before – often so many times that we’re able to quote wholesale from them. We are not required to be efficient.

We go to office parties not because they’re the most glamorous of occasions but because they’re precisely not that. For many of us, Christmas is an excuse to do all the things we wish we could do most of the time but can’t because it wouldn’t be cool or because we’d feel the dragging anxiety of our peers being better at life than we are.

Christmas is time out of real life. A special time during which you are able to use the word “Dickensian” to describe something positively, rather than the usual tyrannical educators, poor public health, the very grimness inherent in being British. Over Christmas, Dickensian means charming, quaint, cosy. Traditional, even. Christmas allows us to step out of our hip and cultivated progressive mindset and just enjoy things that are more comfortable, easier. A little smug perhaps. It’s the annual equivalent of putting on an ironic cardigan.

It’s a bit sad, really, that, for many of us, the things Christmas stands for should be in such antithesis to our quotidian. While the message of peace on earth and goodwill to all is something we’d happily get on board with all year round, we’re conditioned to find the very cosiness of the festive season cloying after a while. And I find that a bit depressing, because Christmas feels like the sort of life we should be living: with our family around us, with the emphasis on spending time doing things we care about rather than things we’re scared of or have been made to do by The Man.

You might think I sound like some old hippie. Maybe I do. But it was hippies who invented Christmas back in the days when they were known as pagans, so perhaps we owe them a thank you. Don’t be too cool for Christmas this year. Revel in it, in its gaucheness and its crapness. Take a picture of your childhood bed and put your paper hat on. I think you’ll find it’s a tonic.