A strange transformation has taken hold of me this festive season: I'm actually looking forward to it.
Normally, I couldn't care less – I like Christmas for the holidays and the telly, but get a bit grumpy when required to do things I deem above and beyond the level of effort one should expend while on holiday and watching telly. Like put up a tree. I simply refuse to do this in London, so last year my flatmate had to buy a 6in-high model one and put it on her bedside table.
I used to be face-twistingly jealous of those folks in our Yorkshire 'burb who religiously (and I mean that in the literal sense) put their firs up on the very first day of Advent. Ours went up on Christmas Eve, and even then only because my sisters and I made a fuss.
For years, we had a fake tree that our parents bought at some point during the 1970s. And as we now know, most things that people thought were OK during the 1970s have turned out to be a really bad idea.
My mum used to refer to it as "the broom handle" for its stick-like stem and sparse foliage. It was a fixture of every Christmas when we were younger: winding bits of tinsel around the most undernourished parts, delighting in the festiveness of it all while our parents no doubt sniggered at the Dickensian spectacle, and at just how easily entertained we were.
Only my friend whose favourite toy was a brick comes close to this in terms of Being Badly Done To.
We won the fake versus real argument once, when I was about 14. My dad just weakened one day and went out to buy a real tree. It was lovely – it felt like being a proper family, one that might eat a Viennetta for tea. And it stayed lovely, until it got wedged in the front door on Epiphany and typewritered itself bald, like Bluto eating a corncob, as my dad attempted to kick it out into the drive.
It's partly for these delightful idiosyncrasies that I'm actually looking forward to Christmas, and partly because I accidentally watched Home Alone under my Slanket with a hangover in mid-November, and realised that Christmas was my favourite thing EVER.
Usually I resent it: the pressure to spend money; eating the same food again and again in ever-diminishing quantities and with slightly different aromas for five days solid. Getting your hopes up during weeks of excitement only to come to on Boxing Day, when it's suddenly all over and you find yourself searching for a length of rope, either to do yourself in or try desperately to fasten your by now-too-small trousers.
But it's the slightly bleak family singularities that make Christmas proper, isn't it? The ones that you despair of as a kid and then cling to as an adult. I have one friend who has to wait until after the Queen's speech to open his presents and eat his turkey dinner. Rubbish! Another's favourite chocolate in the Quality Street tin is the mouth-clogging purple nutty one. Mental! (Don't even get me started on the one who has to go to church in the morning – the very idea of going outside on Christmas Day to do anything other than fart is a sort of blasphemy.)
That said, I haven't done anything differently this Christmas. I have prepared in exactly the same way as usual. Which is to sit around wishing Christmas would happen; to go out on various festive occasions, get pissed and then rue the fact that work still has to happen; and to leave all notions of present-buying until the last possible moment.
It's a given that none of my friends get gifts. I'd like to say it was a result of straitened times, but it's just because we can't be bothered. So at least I have to buy only for my family. But they're all such experts in their chosen fields that any attempt at picking presents they might actually be interested in often turns out more like buying a Tonka truck for a racing-car driver. "But you love all that stuff, you studied it at university!" I reason. Precisely, comes the little smile.
Personally, I pride myself on being easy to buy for. Anyone who knows me may well have snorted at that line, but I am: all I want are some vouchers, so that I can go and make my own decisions long after all the Christmas tat has been disappeared by the sales monsters and their hoovering maws.
That isn't really the spirit of Christmas, is it? But that doesn't matter because – thanks to Home Alone and having spent the past six weeks just mooning around celebrating everything that crosses my path because I'm so chipper – right now I'm bloody Christmas personified. I'm still a bit grumpy, sure, but I'm as festive as that urban myth about the Japanese department store that got the legends wrong and crucified a model of Santa in the middle of the shop floor. And that's quite festive, actually, for me.