How many Decembers have you seen? I’ve seen sixty-one. December is the time our streets and houses begin to shine with the spirit of Christmas. Thoughts of festive celebrations begin to gather momentum and we start to form lists for presents and provisions.
Our televisions sparkle with glittering images of perfect people smiling broadly at their massive oak furniture tables tables heaving with the spoils of the season.
We are dazzled by the sparkling lights of fantasy as they skip in and out of our world of reality.
We may take a sly look at our bank accounts. We may take a fearful peek at our credit card balance. We could even make a nervous trawl of the internet for quick loan companies. At some point we will stop and sigh wondering how mad the whole business is going to get.
Yes, it does seem mad. The pressure to provide and give. The pressure to pass on our greetings. The pressure to stuff ourselves with the fruits of the season until we no longer find chocolate attractive.
And those TV chefs? They ponce about with their perfect trouble-free recipes giving us time to spend with our relatives for opening gifts and that special little tipple.
They all have their own “take” on sprouts, passing on their worldly wisdom that will have the most reluctant sproutie diving into a vat of the little green flavour bombs. And do they not realise that if the chef over-tipples the chances of producing anything stunning from the kitchen will diminish significantly, leaving them crawling on the floor trying to light one of Uncle Eric’s cigars from the toaster which is now hanging from the work surface by its cable.
Well the chefs don’t care. They recorded their programme in July before consulting with the publishers and ghost-writers about the new book: “Festive Kitchen Wonders. Dishes to impress.”
The dish may well impress. Or at least the cast iron casserole bought especially from John Lewis leaves a ruddy great dent on the floor as it plunges down from the eye-level oven when the intrepid chef, teeming with the bravado that only two glasses of breakfast prosecco, a sly glass of pale sherry with the mother-in-law (with Guinness chaser) and most of a nice fruity Rioja can bring, realises he is not wearing his Lakeland jolly reindeer oven gloves.
And the rest of the family are staring from the kitchen door wondering why Dad is still on the floor beating his hands into the ham gravy making delightful mud brown ripples down you unit doors. Somewhere in the gravy, Mum spots the cigar sitting as proud as a turd next to the crimson meat. Grandma walks in. She has over-tippled too.
Poor Auntie Grace who spent Cristmas Eve helping out at the local Salvation Army shelter, begins to sob quietly. She doesn’t know what’s worse. The site of the fallen hero gurgling on the floor or the sound of Grandma’s relentless cackle.
Nine year old Joshua shouts: “Is Daddy pissed?” Mum looks cross. “But you said Dad always gets pissed at Christmas.” Joshua’s big sister Victoria starts taking pictures before looking across to Aunt Grace.
Grace nods and they begin to tidy up around the father, who by now is leaning upright against the units. Grandma is still cackling.
Uncle Tom is no use. He’s still in the living room saving the world on one of Joshua’s Christmas presents. “You’ll have to help them,” demanded his sister, now the colour of the cranberry sauce.
“Uh?” says Tom. Tom tuts as he pauses his game and instructs Joshua to leave it alone until he’s finished. “But it’s mine,” he pleads. “I don’t know how to save it,” Tom snapped. Josh gave a knowing smile. “I’ll save it for you dear uncle. Then I’ll whup your ass later.” Joshua,” calls Mum crossly.
Tom gets up and disappears to the kitchen. A minute later, he bursts back in to grab an unopened bottle of Cote Du Rhone. “You’ll be as bad as him,” said Mum turning to the comfort of her gin. Two hours later everyone is sitting down at the dining table as dinner is served.
The dinner is marvellous. Grace and Tom have played hosts in Tom’s sister’s house. Grace smiles. She thinks about next Christmas and wonders if the same thing could happen three years on the run.
Victoria makes herself known. She wants to be in Mum’s good books. In her school bag is a letter about the trip to Austria. She’s going to choose her moment with that one.
At the final presentation of the flaming Christmas pudding, flashing blue tinsel flames across the darkened room, Mum studies the bodies in the darkness. “Where’s Joshua?” she asks. Dad stops snoring and looks around at the shadowy faces.
Now I’m not saying this is a typical Christmas Day scene but I can’t help myself. It’s late at night and my mind is wandering.
All I can say is that my mum has shown endless tolerance and nerves of steel when she has presented her gorgeous dinner to the four men in her life who sometimes may have seemed a little worse for the demon drink.
As a family we have mostly coped well with Christmas. And I know why. Even after the increasing commercialism and financial pressures, we have always embodied the spirit of Christmas. Despite a few drunken indiscretions, the day itself has been spent in peace and harmony. We have always got on well anyway. So a lot of the family Christmases were really special. In fact a lot of the Decembers were special times too. We would discuss and make plans, always aiming to come together on the day itself. And sometimes at least one of us would be miles way. I’m still miles away but I will be going up for a while.
It’s not just because we all know how to party.
It’s because we all know about the reason and nature of Christmas. Whether you believe in the story or not, we are celebrating the act of peace and goodwill. If that is the legacy of what some claim may is fiction, then bring it on.
Thank-you for reading.