Joan Smith: 'Shopping' shouldn't be a dirty word

All that Christmassy stuff about brotherly love seems to bring out the worst in some individuals
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The Independent Online

Before dawn yesterday queues formed at malls up and down the country, as eager shoppers abandoned home and hearth for the second day running. They stormed the doors at the best-known names in retail, throwing themselves into an orgy of consumerism quite at odds with the message of Christmas. I mean, some of them arrived so early that they couldn't possibly have heard the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, on the Today programme! What's the world coming to?

Obviously, from a traditionalist's point of view, this is yet more evidence of the regrettable commercialisation of Christmas. For weeks beforehand, there is a conspiracy to pretend every single person in the country wants nothing more than to spend several successive days with their relatives, stuffing themselves with food and wearing paper hats in a magnificent display of family values.

I don't, as it happens, which was enough to get me invited on Woman's Hour earlier this month; jaws dropped when I mentioned I once spent Christmas day writing an erotic short story. But I'd much rather do that than listen to the Queen or any of those clerics who get a weirdly disproportionate amount of air time on TV and radio at this time of year, providing a muted religious soundtrack against which the more boisterous festivities are played out.

Then comes the moment of truth: after a day with parents, siblings and assorted other relatives, people want nothing more than to head for the shops. A trip (or three) to the sales has become as settled a Christmas tradition in this country as carols and pudding, and it's obvious that millions of people would rather spend cash than just another day at home in front of the telly. I'm not sure why this comes as such a shock every year, given that TV crews and photographers are always on hand to catch the moment when the doors open at Selfridges on Oxford Street. But there's an equally weird hypocrisy about the way in which the absolutely core activity of Christmas – shopping, of course – has become a dirty word.

I love shopping. I used to have a posh friend who called it "marketing" and wealthy patrons of the arts call it "collecting", but the difference between coveting a Picasso and a little black dress is a matter of bank balance. I don't want a widescreen TV and I can live without an iPad but I'd much rather visit Westfield, the giant shopping centre in West London, than a church; the C of E doesn't do a decent espresso, the seats are hard and there's usually a bloke going on at interminable length about a rather uninteresting event that happened 2,000 years ago.

You might conclude that I'm shallow, like all the other people drawn like wise men to a star by posters offering 50 per cent off, but I'm not convinced that buying a cut-price Marc Jacobs clutch is such a reprehensible activity.

All that Christmassy stuff about brotherly love seems to bring out the worst in some individuals, inspiring them to stuff improvised explosive devices in their shoes or underpants; personally, I can't help thinking the world would be a safer place if blokes like Richard Reid and Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab spent Christmas queuing with a flask of tea outside Peter Jones. Wouldn't they have liked a new digital camera or a nice Le Creuset frying pan? And whatever happened, by the way, to Osama bin Laden's Christmas message?

It has been clear to me for a long time that clerics shouldn't be allowed anywhere near Christmas. Neither should anyone who bemoans the decline of spirituality, whatever that may be, or boasts about how to cook perfect roast potatoes for 19 people. I celebrated this year's winter festival by posing nude for a photographer friend, cooking lamb shanks for half my mates, spending a couple of lazy afternoons with wonderful people I'm not related to – and the best is still to come. You'll have to excuse me now, those sales bargains are way too tempting.