Cancel Christmas? Fine by me

As the UK prays that Christmas will be saved - even perhaps via a two-week lockdown - Laura Marcus reveals her inner Scrooge.

Christmas is off this year. Marvellous. Christmas family gatherings are unlikely to happen. Terrific. Even if the government calls off Covid lockdowns for 24 hours so people can get together on one day, that would completely negate all the sacrifices and isolations we’ve made in the last months…

Why chance it? Surely it’s better to forego a big family Christmas just one year in the hope of keeping your family safe for future years?

Why is Christmas so sacrosanct anyway? It’s not about religion. Least not for the many. The few who celebrate the birth of Christ on Christmas Day tend to be less concerned about the ugly greed and stressful consumerism that characterises the average family Christmas. For Christians, giving thanks and attending church – socially distanced and masked up of course – will be quite sufficient.

For women, not doing Christmas this year is probably the best present they could ever have. Yes, I know that’s a sexist thing to say but I don’t care. Most of us know it’s true. Women certainly do. We make Christmas happen.

I am Jewish but that doesn’t make any difference to the Christmas pressure and stress. Most Jews I know keep Christmas in some way. And if we keep Hanukkah too – the festival of lights at the same time of year – we get double bubble. Twice the stress; double the anxiety. Hanukkah lasts eight nights and requires a gift for every one of them. What, you think we haven’t got enough to worry about? 

As the festive season gets closer, even the most liberated among us find ourselves morphing into 1950s housewives doing everything “because if I don’t no one else will!” It’s not just present shopping. It’s making endless lists. Making sure your kids have the presents they want – or the closest thing to it – and then their friends too, their teachers, your partner’s mother, father, sisters, brothers, cousins, uncles, aunties. And of course their partners too. “Oh just get them something nice and smelly,” is all the guidance you get as you write a never-ending list, traipse round the shops feeling increasingly panicked and deeply resentful. Why am I doing this, why!? Why isn’t he doing his share? “Because if I don’t do it he’ll make a hash of it.” Which of course his mother will forgive him for but not you. Oh no. I always said she was the wrong girl for you and now look, she can’t even be bothered to do Christmas properly.

Ah yes, doing Christmas properly. The in-laws. The other family. Who ALWAYS do it differently from yours. “Oh we always open our presents on Christmas Eve!” says a disappointed 33-year-old supposed grown up. “But we always have stockings not pillow cases.” And why isn’t there any bread sauce? On and on and on it goes. Whatever you do, it’s never right. A woman’s place at Christmas isn’t in the kitchen or in the shops. It’s in the wrong. Meanwhile a man’s place is down the pub. Complaining about Christmas.

It is any wonder relationship charity Relate’s phones ring off the hook after Christmas. And divorce lawyers do a roaring trade the minute January comes round? “That’s it! I can’t take any more.” And that of course makes matters much worse because now you have the arguments over who gets the kids on what days over Christmas. And when do they see both sets of gran and grandad. So to accommodate all these new reconstituted multi-layer families Christmas has to stretch over even more days to try to please everyone. You might as well stay married.

Of course we women are our own worst enemies. We internalise the need to turn ourselves into obedient little Stepford Wives at Christmas. Why? Because we cannot STAND the guilt if we don’t. Ah the guilt. You try so hard to make it all as good as you can but you know you’ll never succeed. Nothing can ever live up to the telly Christmases screaming at you that if you can’t achieve perfection you are a bad person, a lousy wife and a rotten mother.

The poorer you are, the worst it is. You long to give your kids what you can’t give them the rest of the year. You don’t want your kids to feel left out. And maybe your Christmases as a kid weren’t so great so you want to make up for it with your own. Christmas is the chance to revisit the ghost of Christmas past and make it better. Or if you had good Christmases as a child – and let’s face it, there must be some who did! – you want to recreate them for your own kids. But make them better! Always the striving to do better than before. But this level of aspiration often means that not only haven’t you paid off your debts for last Christmas, you’re still paying for several before that. God forbid anyone should think we’re mean!

This relentless Christmas pressure on the poorest has led to some schools cancelling Christmas Jumper Day because too many children were taking the day off as their parents couldn’t afford to buy a jumper to be worn on just one day! This enforced jollity may be fun if you can afford it but it’s a nightmare for the many who can’t and their numbers will only increase as we hit the inevitable Covid recession.

The stress around Christmas is so great I once heard a woman in the queue at a supermarket till say she’d got a nervous rash just because she heard someone say Christmas. In early September! A quarter of the year, a quarter of your life spent in stress and dread. Really, is it worth it?

Christmas is all about spending but not just spending money, oh no! You have to spend your time on it. Lots of time. For the big Christmas meal a quick oh I just rustled this up in the kitchen is definitely not what’s required! You should’ve been planning it for months before, losing sleep as you work out menus and table sittings, consulting your trusty Good Housekeeping guide on when to start. Can you get away with another Delia Christmas or is she passé now? Don’t ask me. I’ve truly no idea and I care less.

On Christmas Eve you have to get up before you’ve gone to bed so you can start peeling the vegetables, buttering the turkey and preparing The Feast. Then remember to put out a tangerine and glass of sherry for Santa. Do all the stockings and presents and oh the endless wrapping. It’s so tedious. Isn’t it? Come on. It is. And who even remembers what they got last year? Who remembers by the beginning of January what they got? Who cares? It’s bound to be something you didn’t want.

The only good bit of Christmas is when it’s all over. And you look back with relief that you got through it. The weeks of stress leading up to it are gone and, as ever, every year, you think, why did I get into such a state about it? Why do I bother? But you know you’ll do the same next Christmas. Why? Because it’s expected. It’s tradition. It’s Christmas!

Well have a year off and see how awful it isn’t. I’ve taken loads of Christmases off. Said no, I’m not doing it this year and you can’t make me. And you know what? It was fantastic! One year in an act of rebellion we had fish fingers and peas for our Christmas meal and insisted we only spent a pound on our present. A minimal Christmas is the best Christmas.

So don’t fret if Christmas is cancelled this year. People are having lockdown birthdays and socially-distanced weddings and still managing to have a good time. A Covid Christmas won’t kill you. But catching Covid might. And there’s always next year if you insist on going through the whole charade. Though you just might find that life without Christmas is the best Christmas treat you can have!

Photo credit: Essex Live

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Laura Marcus

Laura Marcus is a freelance journalist and broadcaster.

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