Zero Mistletoe, Some Wine – The Christmas Blog
Had I the possession of a computer I’d be posting blogs more frequently, but as things stand you’ll have to deal with my ramblings of genius as-and-when. Anyway, gotta keep ya keen, huh?
First things first:
I really must apologise for the Cliff Richard reference. I can’t stand him, and most likely, neither can you (I doubt there will be many late-middle aged women of the kind who still think Take That are good reading this). I must say though, he has provided us with some fine comedic moments over the years. Who can forget his live TV appearance when the dry ice got the better of his smooth-soled shoes, enthusiastically introducing his posterior to the stage, or the utter WTF-ness of this video?
“Oh-woah-woah-woah, woo-woo-woo”, yes, quite…
I think we can safely put the death of old school rock and roll at around the time this came out.
Anyway, on to the whole point of this blog: my Christmas day. Why? Because.
Well, because not only do I have friends in other parts of the world who’d follow different traditions, but I have friends in Britain who might have very different ways of celebrating this out-of-place festival that has never-the-less become ingrained in our culture. Not that I’m gonna give you a lesson in folklore – I’m not really qualified and if I were it would be a diversion too far from the point anyway.
As usual I spent Christmas with my family. We generally gather at my parents in The Midlands – my brother coming down from Liverpool, my sister and her family from Oxfordshire, and myself from London. There are often representatives from other branches too – my mum’s side of the family tree are only a couple of hours drive away so they would normally visit a day or two after the 25th, or we might gather there – an assembly that these days can number up to 15 bodies, depending on who can make it and what members of the most recent generation are around. This year has been a bit different though. Not only did my dad’s mother recently move from Somerset into a very nice care home near my parents, but his brother and sister-in-law, who we only get to see every five or so years, are over from Argentina. Because of all this we aren’t gonna see my mum’s side of the family this year, although a get-together later in the year isn’t unheard of.
I arrived here a couple of days before Christmas, giving me the chance to do all my present shopping on Christmas eve, in less than three hours, which is something of a record. I didn’t even break a procrastinatory sweat! Because my Aunt and Uncle are here I’m sleeping on the futon sofa, which is pretty comfortable, but I will be sharing it with the bro for the next couple of nights. I just hope he’s washed his feet recently.
The other thing that’s making this year a bit different is the fact that the UK has seen some of it’s “worst” snowfall for several years. I certainly haven’t seen more than a couple of inches since my teenage years in the late 80’s, but both London and Birmingham have been under an 8 or 10 inch blanket for the last 8 days. My parents garden looks like a thick sheet of royal (maybe we should call it republican) icing has been laid over it, including the small, frozen pond. It really only snowed last weekend (18th) but it’s been so damn cool that it’s not started to thaw out until today (monday, over a week later), when I woke to the sounds of dripping icicles and the creak of shifting slabs of snow. So it’s been a Christmas with some proper snow to add to the atmosphere.
On Christmas day we were up for breakfast at around 9am and being a Christian family (excluding myself) we went across the road to the local Baptist church where my parents have been members for several years. I joined them because I appreciate the spiritual nature and the broader significance of the festivities, even if my thoughts on the mythology of Christianity are quite different to theirs. I don’t have anything against Jesus at all, I’m just not keen on the dogma that’s grown up around the whole business (or indeed the business that’s grown up around Christmas – the use, to quote Tim Minchin, of “a dead Palestinian to sell Playstations and beer”). So far there doesn’t seem to have been any evidence to support the theory of the immaculate conception, I don’t imagine that the shepherds all really saw the heavenly host announcing the joyous, although admittedly I’d be hard pressed to come up with my own explanation (mass hallucination, the consumption of interesting plants?), and the business with the wise men – the Magi – magicians, who followed the stars (astrology) and presented the child Jesus with magically symbolic gifts makes me wonder why, centuries later, the medieval church decided to forbid such things as being the work of the devil. But still, I do like a good carol service and a christmas day church visit is part of the package that adds a layer of richness to proceedings. However, the service we got was really dull: lots of dead air, very little effort when it came to the singing, an unimaginative Christmas sermon presented with the help of Powerpoint. I suggested to the family later that it would have been a good idea to make everyone jog round the block a couple of times before the service to get them energised.
So that’s the spiritual part of the day (a part that will always hold some significance for me, seeing as how I’m into that side of things) done with, what of my mother’s amazing culinary skills? Being brought up in the way I was (Christian, left leaning and middle class), I sometimes feel a little guilty that we can spend all day stuffing ourselves, and quaffing nice wine when so many people struggle to feed themselves day by day, here in Britain as well as in the developing world. But when the food’s this good…
We get the full works – turkey, sausages, roast potatoes, carrots, sprouts, parsnips, stuffing and bread sauce cranberry sauce, Christmas pudding, trifle… Pretty much all of it is homemade, although mum – who would often make Christmas pudding a year in advance – has allowed Marks And Spencer to take on that task for the last few years, but they are good. She does make sweetmeats though and this year we have been enjoying her lovingly produced panforte, alongside more traditional fayre of nuts and chocolates. Between getting in from church and digging our eagerly wielded cutlery into the presented feast, we attend to the all important exchange of gifts, usually accompanied by comments to the effect that someone really ought to go through the rubbish and separate out all the paper for recycling, but do we ever get round to it?
My brother arrived from Northern parts on the 27th and so we indulged in Christmas Dinner Mk II, which consisted of cold turkey and sausages with roast potatoes and stir fried veg, more trifle and Christmas pud and a second round of presents. Tomorrow is Mk III with my sister’s family, which should be fun with my niece and nephew (5 and 3 respectively). I say “fun”, but there’s a fine line…
Hehe, nah – they’re great really. Unless it’s 7am and you happen to be sleeping on the sofa.
Well it wasn’t too painful (it’s gone 10 o’clock the next morning now): I was poked awake by my three-year old nephew, who was encouraged by my mum (yeah, thanks…), clambered over by my niece, and had to endure the bright and annoying cheer of early morning CBeebies for an hour or so, but you can’t really be grumpy with a couple of kids like them around.
I mean, if I find out that you can, I’ll be annoyed that no-one told me sooner.
Hehe, nah – they’re great really. Grandma and Grandpa have taken them out to explore Birmingham while I finish off here and get ready to go home.
In terms of what I actually received from my nearest and dearest, the range was somewhat typical but no less appreciated – additions to my literary and music libraries are always welcome (from my brother I got a Secret Machines album, and book about deception as military strategy and a copy of Dodgem Logic – a magazine produced by the fairly great Alan Moore, as well as a copy of his own writing – under the name of Urbin Flack – in the form of “Tales From The Valcro(sic) Room Volume II”, available from one good bookshop in Liverpool – News From Nowhere if you’re anywhere near), as is the cash I was more than happy to populate my new wallet (made from recycled Thai rice sacks) with, as is good ground coffee and a pair of daft Peter Storm penguin hand warmers, which will be invaluable on my winter bike rides. Alongside that lot I had a small but eagerly received selection of confection (I do like good chocolate).
And so, with the snow all but melted to nothing and the garden looking a little weary from its sub-zero ordeal, the ice-sheet on the pond noticeably thinning out (though still an inch+ thick) and the squirrels charging round looking for stored nuts – having forgotten their hibernation instinct years ago they still bury food amongst the flowerbeds, much to my parents frustration – my festive odyssey draws to a slightly weary, but happy, end as I head back to London later today. It’s been great to see everyone as always, and great to share my Christmas with people I don’t get to see very often at all. The gifts I’ve been given pale beside the value of being with my family, which is what Christmas is about for me – sharing the love, relaxing together, and remembering the spirit in which we are all bound as a family, and as a species. We are all connected, all part of something bigger, manifested in the myths of religion and in the reality of compassion, respect, love and understanding, and what better way to celebrate that?
Apropos to all that, is this from a film I saw – and can highly recommend – about a year ago.
I hope you, dear reader, had a great Christmas and I wish you a very happy New Year, till next time I can be bothered…
I realise that by the time I’ve got round to finishing and posting this it’s waaay too late for seasonal wishes, but whatever – save ’em for next time if ya like!