…and I can hardly contain myself!
I’m so excited, and I just can’t hide it, and I know, I know, I know, I know you’re gonna hate me! Why? Because Christmas is only 100 days away! The countdown to my favourite day of the year is here and my mind and Pinterest boards are already chocca block with seasonal ideas and things to do, my recipe scrapbooks are ready and waiting, my lists are growing and my husband is ducking for cover. Ever seen the movie ELF? The part when he jumps up and down screaming ‘Santa’s coming? SANTA’S COMING!!!!’
If you are a normal human being you probably walk through the supermarket in September, your summer vacation feeling like it was only yesterday and your mind full of ‘first day of term’ chores and then you stop, do a double take, shake your head with disgust and mutter ‘are you fucking kidding me!’ Why? Because there is already a Christmas aisle. A bloody Christmas aisle! When you are still wearing shorts?! And you get really angry because you feel manipulated, rushed and bullied into thinking about something that you are not yet ready for. A celebration that is only one day out of the whole year and it’s ages away. Is that how it is for you?
Well not me. I LUUUURVE Christmas!
At the first sight of anything Christmassy I get butterflies in my belly and a grin starts to creep over my face, sunny beaches forgotten and kids not even coming into it. As I stare in wonder at the shelves of twinkly tinsel, shimmering tree decorations and pretty wrapping papers my eyes light up bright, with more uninhibited delight than a fat kid looking through a cake shop window.
Christmas is like a drug to me. Always has been. And my second favourite day of the year? 12th December. Because that is the day I wait until my kids are in bed and my husband is out of my way (who am I kidding, he will have been avoiding me for weeks by now) and I put on my ‘Rat Pack Sing Christmas Carols’ CD. I pour myself a glass or three of good Port, cut up some Cranberry sprinkled Wensleydale cheese and crackers, and I start on the tree.
Oh don’t worry, the kids will have already done their crappy excuse for a tree on the cheap mini plastic one in their bedroom where no one can see it. But this, this is my time and I have been planning the colour scheme for weeks. My lights aren’t a tangle, my baubles are not crushed and my nativity scene has all the pieces in it and they are perfectly in proportion to one another (and no, my kids are not allowed to play with Baby Jesus). Once my tree is a thing of wonder I move on to wrapping gifts. I love wrapping. My paper and ribbons match my Christmas colour scheme, of course, and my paper is not the cheap stuff that tears as soon as you touch it. One year I handmade over 100 individual paper snowflakes to hang from our tree, another year the present tags were made out of felt, with ornate Christmas emblems hand sewn on each one. I spend weeks making seasonal crafts with the children, that I don’t display around the house as they are ugly, and my fridge is bursting with home cooked mince pies, truffles and Rocky Road chocolate sprinkled with icing sugar snow and decorated with plastic reindeer.
I blame my late Grandmother for my obsession. Having been brought up abroad, Christmas was the one time I got to go to England and see all the family (I have celebrated Christmas in Australia, USA, Canada and Spain – and still think England is the only place to be on the 25th of December). And boy, did my family used to put on a show! In my memory it always snowed and we got to wear fun stuff like mittens and ear warmers, we had exciting food like cranberry sauce (jam on your meat?) and puddings that were set on fire. And the gifts! Not just one from my Nana, oh no! We had tree presents, little presents, the main present and… as if we weren’t already hysterical with excitement… we got The Snowman. A cardboard, hollowed out snowman from the 1970’s stuffed with tiny gifts like play jewelry and novelty pencils that the elves had ‘filled up while we were having dinner’ – which I believed until I was at least 12 years old. And my Grandmother would sit, her six grandchildren at her feet looking up expectantly, and empty out the gifts on to her long skirt, handing out each tiny little parcel.
And I guess that’s what spurs me on. Recapturing that magic, that excitement and that sense of tradition. It was never about the money, my family then and my family now are far from rolling in it, it was about the hype, the excitement and the build up. And for me (and since my Nana is no longer with us – every other woman in my family) it still is.
But unfortunately that’s where I fall down and my miserable Grinch of a husband has a point. Because, starting anything 100 days before the big day means that when the day arrives you have already lived it 100 times. Your expectations are always grander than the reality. Your kids will be arguing, whining and begging for toys at 5am, not appreciating that you hand sewed their stockings and embroidered their names on them (yes, I really did that). Your food won’t taste as great as Nigella’s (or your Nana’s), even though you have had the turkey marinating in a bucket in the garden for three days as Ms Lawson’s Cooking Bible instructs. And no one will have noticed the holly and ivy table centre arrangement that you tore up your hands making for three hours the day before.
My Christmases are wonderful until the actual day, because by then I am exhausted and stressed out and underwhelmed – and I am praying for one miracle. That there won’t be the ‘Grand Christmas Argument’ that there is every year between at least two female members of my family (mainly me). There was the unforgettable ‘You have left the peas boiling too long, dinner is a shambles’ argument of 1988 between my two Aunties; there was the ‘Everyone has received green velvet shirts from Walthamstow market’ debacle of 1995; and the epic ‘You have ruined Christmas!’ of 2010, when my mother pushed me out of my own kitchen for getting in the way and being too pregnant.
And the men in my family? Oh, they have been knocking back the mulled wine for hours… they aren’t daft, they know what Christmas is really like in our family… so they will simply smile at the copious amount of boring socks they will inevitably receive, eat until they can no longer do up their trouser buttons and get pissed. Because that’s enough for them.
But it’s not enough for me. So there are always tears, and sorries, and big hugs. Then all the plans and Christmas details are forgotten and we get stuck in to the food and booze, have a laugh and watch the kids fight over the box their present came in. Because that is what it is all about. Family and love.
And now, like Rudolph himself, I must dash… because there are only 100 days until Christmas! Which is simply not enough time to perfect my seasonal masterpieces, start on my list that’s longer than Santa’s and create 2016’s Pinterest inspiration board. I will also be praying hard that this year I will arrive safe and sound of mind on the big day and avoid yet another epic family Christmas battle. Wish me luck!