Christmas is here and we’re all winding down, clearing out desks, or at home cleaning the house and doing a few last minute bits and bobs in preparation for the Day Of Good Eating. I have avoided mass panic so far and am trying to keep it that way. I am Zen. It’s just a day after all. The presents are bought and there is food in the fridge. Done.
I have a complex relationship with Christmas. I like the build up to it, the catch up with friends, the small gifts bought and cards written. I love the decorations and the trees and the fact that generally we all take stock and acknowledge each other, we get a break and we get a chance to recharge.
Growing up in South Africa Christmas also meant the big summer holidays so it was a month of festivities rather than a week. And it varied greatly depending on which part of the family we were spending it with. The huge extended Mills Clan in the Cape or our smaller immediate family in Jo’burg with a host of family friends. As a small child, Christmas in the Cape meant throwing ourselves head first into the sea, followed by the lake, followed by tea, followed by more sea and then dinner with endless cousins to hide in dunes, run up mountains, throw off canoes. We had competitions to see whose feet got the toughest walking down the gravel paths to the sea. Who could leave their flip-flops behind first and run across the stones without yelping. Who could swim across the lake the fastest. Christmas was very simple then. We turned up. There were presents/ the food arrived. We ate it and then went for a swim.
As we hurtled into our teen years, the attraction of the canoes in the lake or sea-shell hunting was replaced by late night beach excursions, smuggling illicit booze, talking about music, meeting boys (that had no connection to the family) and plotting ways to get into town. The traditions and rituals of our childhood were no longer exciting, nativity plays and carol singing holding little sway for a B&H smoking, eye-liner touting city girl who just wanted to go dancing late at night, with new people. Preferably who were DJs and had their own cars. Christmas was about avoiding family at all costs.
Christmas has also always been a season of firsts and milestones. The first time I got drunk was on Christmas night when I was 12. I was trying to impress my older second cousin with my sophistication, all dressed up in early 90s mono-chrome and being allowed ‘a small glass of wine’ which I topped up. Frequently. Like a grown up and out of the eye line of my parents. It was the first time I got busted smoking too. Having managed to skive a fag off the very same older cousin, I had forgotten to lock the bathroom door when my grandmother barged in. Thankfully slightly squiffy herself, she promised not to tell if I quit right there and then. I promptly vomited as soon as she closed the door. Turns out Baileys, wine and sheer terror don’t mix.
My first kiss was at Christmas, playing pool in a hotel with friends and a few local kids. My friend refused to speak to me for the rest of the holiday, kissing boys who didn’t really know was bad form (apparently). All these rules that no-one tells you about until you’re already in hot water. I did not learn this lesson and spent most Christmas holidays from then on kissing inappropriate boys. As most teen girls should.
Moving into adulthood, my first Christmas abroad without my family coincided with a long term relationship break up. A very last minute, cold, west and grey Christmas where a friend very kindly bundled me and my visiting sister off to their family outside of London. Followed quickly by a trip up to Scotland where I sobbed at my aunts’s kitchen table for 3 days, fuelled by Malboroughs, tea and an endless supply of biscuits.
The past few years have been fairly incident free. I’ve written cards signed ‘The Conquests’ and survived the insanity of the season by dressing the dog up as a reindeer. The complex relationship continues, I love the get togethers and the family time, but I find the competitive gifting, and garish over consumption leaves me as queasy. The binge and purge cycle of Christmas followed by the almost mandatory January detox seems so self inflicted and pointless. We’re encouraged to (over) eat, (over) drink, and be (very) merry and within 6 days sent the opposite message that the ‘excess holiday weight’ is hideous and needs to be shifted immediately. We’re bombarded with solutions to help us to clear out, detox, lose weight, quit drink, set goals, and start a New Year as a New You. Because the Old You Is Just Not Good Enough. And it’s so entrenched in our psyche we seem to just blindly walk into it. Its exhausting.
That’s not to say I disagree with over indulging, or that I think goal setting is naff. I love a goal. I also love cheese, on everything pretty much all year round. I have made peace with the fact I’ll put on a few pounds between November and December. But I resent the January onslaught from every corporate company on this planet making us all feel inferior for buying into the over indulgence they sold us just a week prior. Its a trap. And I am opting out.
So this New Year I am proposing not making any major changes at all. Looking back on this year, although its been tough in parts, we’ve managed just fine. We moved house. We saved some money. We travelled. I don’t need a brand new me just yet. I think we’re doing just fine, thank you very much. It is a season of firsts after all.
And I refuse to cut out carbs or cheese.
Happy Holidays all!