Christmas: the monstrous turkey on the horizon, the holiday to end all holidays. Whatever your view on the matter, it seems like it’s here to stay. Maybe this invincibility is why we find Christmas so easy to swing at – we’ll never be rid of it, so we can rage against the gift-wrapped punching bag all we like. The stress, the tired kitsch, and the bloated consumerism all begin to show through the cracks once we’ve had to deal with Christmas as adults. To make an example of it, it’s the Beatles of the holidays – huge, unavoidable, and increasingly trendy to hate – but it’s rare to hear someone say that the Beatles are bad, rather than just overrated. I’m not getting into that here, but the principle is the same: Christmas in the cold light of adult day can hardly match up to its image, and the carefree ones we might have had as children. But are we confusing these unmet expectations with faults in the holiday? Do our rational (if slightly un-Christmassy) criticisms justify abandoning it altogether?

It is fun to pick at Christmas spent with loved ones: I’d go as far as to say it’s tradition. Why do we all make jokes about having a weird uncle, whether he exists or not? Why do we get so incredibly drunk just to fall asleep on the sofa at 5pm? Why does anyone still play charades? It’s a strange time no matter how you celebrate, but without it the winter would drag on that much longer. Getting together with the ones we love is becoming more and more of a privilege in an ever-busier world, and whatever tradition you follow, the holiday season is a perfect time for it. We might never recover the magic of a childhood Christmas, but we can still keep it special. Eat, nap, drink eggnog in the bath – it’s the little things, after all. It’s a time to enjoy yourself in the midst of a long winter, however massive the pressure is to ‘do it right’.

Gift-giving is a lovely thing. Driving ourselves into debt from the pressure, is probably not. A season to indulge with your loved ones, great! The waste and excess whilst others go without food and a roof over their heads, definitely not. But the problem is hardly with Christmas alone: we gorge at Easter, and recently we’ve been going nuts on Black Friday – the layover from a holiday that few in this country even celebrate. The commodification of our holidays is as inevitable as the commodification of anything else, but as long as a shred of the Christmas spirit remains, need we give up on it? In Norwich alone, charities like The Basket Brigade and Norwich Open Christmas work through the season to make sure local people aren’t going without. More widely, foundations like Refuge, Crisis, and Missing People have Christmas drives to help make the season a better time for everyone. It’s easy to resent those charity adverts over the season, needling us through the TV at our warm homes and rich food. But if goodwill is dead in the commercialised, debt driven world we find ourselves in, guilt might just have to do. We might not be able to count many CEOs who will have a Scrooge-esque change of heart this year, but with a little gift-giving between ourselves, we might start to take Christmas back out of their offices.

Don’t overload on guilt, though: this isn’t a call for a puritan Christmas. In fact, it’s the opposite. If we boil Christmas down to money and stress, what’s left? After the giving is done, Christmas is about having fun, something to look forward to while the rest of the year drags on. It’s the title fight, the blockbuster of holidays, and though we’ve seen it a million times – we know the script by heart and all the plot holes, the cheesy scenes and cliché message – it’s still more than worth turning up. The spirit of the day keeps it special, whether it’s food, family, presents, or rubbish TV. Christmas is a stress, but that’s because it’s a high point – and I’m sure we’d all miss it if it were gone.

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Toby Marquis

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January 2022
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