WHICH is the best time of year? I’m sure you’ve had this discussion with some-one.
Well, stand by, I am going to put it to bed once and for all.
Sure, blossom is beautiful and walking in crunchy leaves in October is captivating.
Yes, there’s a strong argument for Easter egg hunts (until you find a melted, slightly hairy chocolate ball at the back of the sofa six months later) and I know baby lambs are delightful.
But, without question, the most magical time of the year is, of course, Christmas.
People often complain that Christmas decorations go up too soon. I’d be happy for them to be erected in June.
Christmas is all about sparkly lights, reindeer ornaments and the smell of hot food, which is, of course, really the key to life. There’s no fennel or cold soup now, it’s all blistering and possibly covered in gravy.
Extra roasts for the table, anyone?
In normal times, the lead-up to Christmas is great, on account of everyone being badly behaved and raucous and a little bit end-of-the-world mad.
We eat too much, we sing carols too loudly, we say yes to everything.
If March is your polite great aunt, then December is the naughty cousin who sneaks vodka into your drink when you’re only 13. All bets are off. I missed the meeting/I was hungover at his nativity/I forgot to pay the bill as I haven’t opened a letter since mid-November.
All the rules, all the stuff that usually fills our heads as we rush around, have gone, just for a bit.
Any lists we make are populated by items like brandy butter (is there a better invention?) and wrapping paper and the ingredients for Christmas cake.
The house smells of satsumas and Stilton and we forget about homework and sorting out drawers.
The school rucksacks stay in the same place by the door for the whole period and washing from November gets damp in the laundry basket until January.
It’s impossible to be tidy at Christmas — and this is deeply relaxing.
There’s stuff coming in (some mistletoe, a tree) and stuff going out (please deliver this present, I’ll drop this box at the food bank), so neat and organised is put on the back burner.
As Christmas Day approaches we get more and more sloppy and everyone makes joyous mistakes. In fact, the more you make, the better. Ha! I’ve burnt the toast. There are pine needles all over the kitchen and the Hoover has broken. Never mind!
The kids’ presents get muddled up and now the 17-year-old might open a teddy and the eight-year-old will unwrap a massive Arsenal kit. No bother.
Wrapping presents turns into a farce. “Babe, I’ve lost the Sellotape, pass me the Pritt Stick or f*** it, shall we use the stapler?” Yes, of course eggnog is a good idea.
Everything is jumbled up and haphazard and better than Normal April and Organised September.
There’s anticipation in the air and the Christmas parties are loud bundles of happiness, rather than the stiff outings of the rest of the year.
Everyone is gently pickled and staggering around and they’ve slipped over on the way to the pub so they’re covered in rain, snow or mud.
Cold outside means huddled up and squashed indoors, and everyone knows their bodies are undercover for the next four months so nobody is bothering about getting their toes done or waxing or passing up on macaroni cheese.
People crowd round the bar and drink gin and eat small, slightly burnt sausages almost constantly. The office parties are disorderly and a laugh and nobody remembers what happened the day after.
Even the people you don’t love at work are shiny and weirdly fun and in a good mood.
I’m 48 and feel 110, but I still love Christmas Day. We wake up to squealing from upstairs — they’ve opened their stockings and are still unfathomably excited about a bruised clementine in foil and some out-of-date Smarties. We see all our family, we eat until we can’t move. There are games and everyone takes turns to cuddle my smallest nephew. “My turn,” we all shout as he lets us snuggle him and blow raspberries on his neck.
We only give stuff we can eat or use in the bath, so it’s basically shampoo or cheese. The kids are allowed toys and clothes but, if you’re over 18, expect some caramelised cashews or hand cream. Better. Less stress.
Someone dresses up as Father Christmas and hands out the wigs from last year (genuinely hilarious after a saddle of red wine) and we go to bed covered in crumbs and cracker hats.
If the day is skew-whiff it doesn’t matter. Some people are trying not to break garden chairs (“Sorry, that one is still covered in cobwebs”), the bread sauce is found in the microwave after everyone has left, the Trivial Pursuit is from 1993 and nobody under the age of me understands the questions and, as it’s my mum’s birthday, we sing to her until we’re hoarse.
House is a mess
Next is the time in between Christmas and New Year — the perineum, if you like — and it’s often the best bit.
Absolutely nobody is getting dressed, no one is considering shoes and the house looks like someone has broken in and angrily thrown everything in the air.
“Did a typhoon rip through your place?” “Nah, it’s December 27.” “Gotcha.”
It’s like being a student again. Have you seen The Young Ones? Well, it’s that. Nobody can remember when they last showered, it’s 10am and mince pies are an excellent idea.
“While you’re in the fridge can you pass me some butter? I reckon I’m just going to eat some with my hands.”
The kids aren’t stuck to their phones because the telly is so damn good — yes to watching a movie with turkey curry at midday.
Slopped some rice and sauce on the sofa? Don’t worry about it. Plus they’re playing with their presents — a remote-control car, a Spirograph (completely compelling) and even the big ones are shouting over some Connect 4 and ice cream at 3pm.
We’re lazier than sloths and watch ET again (not up for discussion).
So yes, now I have explained, I’m sure you have accepted the self-evident truth of the matter. I know spring is lovely, with its tiny chicks, and correct, the strawberries in June are delicious, but there’s actually no contest.
If it’s not December it’s not fun.
- Quite, by Claudia Winkleman, published by HQ HarperCollins, is out now in Hardback, ebook and audiobook.
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