“Christmas waves a magic wand over this world, and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful. ”
(Norman Vincent Peale)
Mr Peale is as bad as Richard Curtis. His snowy Christmasses, rosy-cheeked well-spoken carol-singers, his happy endings, his tying together of all the knots, are the ramblings of a madman. I love Four Weddings, and I like Notting Hill immensely, but Love Actually makes me want to pull my own teeth out. Not only because it has loathesome Keira Knightley in it (last night I dreamt she was cutting my hair, and not terribly well) but because you want its happy endings to be real and life isn’t like that.
I must admit to having my own Richard Curtis moment. I would never tell anyone about it but it’s like one of those bloody candles you blow out and then it relights itself, every sodding year, only to be eventually snuffed out.
Things don’t “all work out for Christmas”. People do not fall in love with you just because it’s darker than usual (unless you’re in a nightclub) and it is cold. The missing do not turn up on the doorstep just in time for eggnog over the Queen’s Speech. There are no unexpected windfalls which mean you can buy the perfect gift, boilers do not magically start working, arguments are not resolved over fairy lights and broken relationships are not magically mended by a formulaic card. There are no happy endings, not at Christmas, and not at any other time of the year. If you do want one, then you have to rely on yourself rather than festive spirit to get it.
Disclaimer – the following may be complete nonsense.
Christmas is ultimately what you make it – and I try to do a better job than I have done in the past (I’m thinking of 2003/4/5/6 in particular). Making an effort to call people, send cards which say more than just “To – from” in them, put thought into presents and make Christmas biscuits which aren’t charcoaled (this may take several attempts). I find investing in CDs of unusual festive music and each year buying a new decoration for my little tree to make it more ‘mine’ helps me get into the spirit.
Kindness begets kindness. I bought some doughnuts from a stall in town to give to a beggar and the seller refused to take any payment. (I did the same from a waffle stand and was charged £4 for a considerably ropey waffle so it doesn’t happen everywhere). A few years ago a random man wished me a merry Christmas in the street and I wanted to “boil him in his own pudding, with a stake of holly through his heart”. This time I’ve said it back (not to the same bloke obviously; don’t know where he is and can’t even remember what he looks like and chances are he would probably not dare say it to me again anyway) and I’ve had nice responses. It’s become an add-on to “thank you, goodbye” and it makes people smile. (I didn’t say it to the beggar because it seemed a bit thoughtless, really, as chances are he won’t have one. But I scruffled his dog’s head.)
I have not been reading festive stuff at all. I really ought to start, but for the record, Six Weeks by John Lewis-Stemple is a comprehensive and eye-opening look at the lives of the average British Officer in WW1. The Testament of Mary by Colm Toibin is a short and rather disturbing but very original look at Mary’s view of her son Jesus, and who he really was. It’s deliberately not referring to the fact that Mary knew long before Jesus was born who He was which weakens the story, but anyway. And now I’m on Time’s Echo by Pamela Hartshorne which is ideal for anyone who loves Barbara Erskine’s tales of history colliding with modern day.
(Oh and here’s another I thing I hate. Bloody Eastenders when there have been arguments over dry turkey and someone’s thrown someone else through the window, but then suddenly they all stand round the tree and it starts snowing and they all soften and smile at each other. It’s the most unrealistic thing in the soap – and that’s saying something.)
I am phenomenally lazy if I allow myself to be, and I’m a hugely talented wallower. The more I decided to try and enjoy Christmas again (after being a complete Scrooge for approx 3 years) the easier it got and the more I looked forward to it. So – and I speak from experience here – if you’ve had a row with someone, and it might have been sort-of your fault, get in touch with them. Don’t do it via text or sodding email., do it PROPERLY like in ye olde days. Face to face if you can, and in a letter – handwritten, it doesn’t matter if your writing’s crap – if you can’t. If you’ve got a spare quid, buy a beggar a doughnut or a coffee (not a waffle) or hell just give it to him, you’ll get another one from somewhere. But don’t do any of that just because it’s bloody Christmas. And also don’t do the row thing if you were really badly treated by someone. Sod them. Don’t make up with them just because it’s Christmas – use the time on someone worthwhile instead.
Don’t tell someone you love them just because you think it might work because it’s Christmas. It won’t unless they love you back, and chances are you’ll know whether they do or not long before December 25th.
One more thing. As I have eschewed Love Actually may I suggest The Muppet Christmas Carol as perfect seasonal viewing. The inspiration for my own version of A Christmas Carol (staging it was probably the happiest evening of my life – I was 15): warm, original, funny, spooky and damn near perfect. Of course, if my RC moment (ice-skating down a frozen river all the way to Ely hand-in-hand with a bemittened Prince Harry) comes to pass then my turn as Scrooge would be the second happiest evening of my life, but I’m not holding my breath. If you keep dreaming about your future you miss out on the present.
Light a candle for those who aren’t with you; don’t feel you have to pretend they didn’t exist, that their loss is forgotten. I will be burning several; flames I will never extinguish.
Here endeth the lesson. It doesn’t take much to have a nice Christmas. It only took Bad King John an india-rubber ball, after all.