This post has been written by Jan Fitzpatrick
Yes. For anybody who really doesn’t like Christmas, this time of year can be particularly difficult. Fortunately, the school I taught in for many years had a predominantly Muslim intake, so we never went completely over the top. There were strict rules as to when staff were allowed to decorate their classrooms and the Christmas Post didn’t begin until the week before the end of term. The idea was not to make any more of an issue of Christmas than we did at Eid, but that rarely rang true. There were just too many people at school who loved Christmas.
Even though we weren’t allowed to have any visible signs of Christmas, the planning ahead at every school meant that Christmas had to be on our minds from the beginning of September onward. There was the Christmas performance to think about, the carols around the tree with parents to be factored in, the PTA’s Christmas Fayre, the fact that Father Christmas might be paying a visit, the class parties, the Christmas Dinner to book in, the staff Secret Santa, the gifts for the teaching assistants, and the never-ending list of Christmas cards to be exchanged with the staff that you see every single day. All to be fitted into our newly purchased beginning of the new year diaries.
For me, the really awful part starts in mid-October. The clocks go back, so suddenly we spend most of our lives in the dark, and people start asking what I want for my birthday. The truth is, I never want anything for my birthday, as I’d rather not celebrate it at all. So I have to have a birthday that I don’t want, Halloween with oodles of children knocking on the door begging for sweets that I don’t have and being scared by my enormous dog and his very loud bark. (Actually, that’s not true. Nobody knocks on our door at Halloween now as I either keep the lights off or simply go out for the evening.) Then it’s the dreaded Bonfire Night, when the neighbours try to fire-bomb the house and upset the dog even more. By the time they are over, everybody is putting up their Christmas trees and counting down the days to Christmas.
So what don’t I like about Christmas? I guess my major gripe is with the blatant commercialism of it all. The pressure put on people to spend money that they don’t have, on gifts that nobody needs to create the perfect Christmas for their loved ones. We are bombarded with adverts from every direction showing large amiable families gathering to exchange expensive gifts to show how much they love each other. What about the people who don’t have those loved ones? What about the people who can’t afford the Christmas presents? Apparently, you not only need to find the perfect gift for everybody you know, you also need to buy a new sofa and a new dining table, probably a new bathroom and revamp the spare room for Grandma to come and stay for the duration. I worked for Citizens’ Advice for many years and towards the end of every January, when the credit card bills started rolling in, we’d have to try and deal with the aftermath of overspending for otherwise quite sensible people.
Don’t get me started on the waste. Who actually benefits from people buying pieces of card, folding them up and putting them in the post to be received by other people buying very similar pieces of card to send them back to those exact same people? The card manufacturers and the shareholders of the Royal Mail. So what if they can be recycled? What’s the point? Most wrapping paper is non-recyclable and glitter is an environmental nightmare. That’s before we consider the actual gifts that are bought. I don’t know about you, but if there is something I need, I buy it for myself and I expect other people to do the same. If I’m not buying things that people need, then I’m supposed to guess what people want. Wouldn’t they be better buying something for themselves, as they actually know what they want? Chances are, I’ll be buying something that they don’t want, which they will put with the other piles of stuff that they don’t want, which sooner or later will end up in a charity shop or straight into a landfill site.
Yesterday, I read a timely report that the rates of obesity in the UK have doubled in 20 years. Wow, that’s quite some increase! Possibly fuelled by the whole of December, as well as half of November being an excuse to eat a chocolate orange for breakfast and stuff ourselves with the richest, sweetest and fattiest foods imaginable which you can’t burn off at the gym because you are too busy shopping. Then, you have those days spent with the relatives you spend the rest of the year avoiding, cooped up in an overheated house because it’s pouring with rain outside. One enormous meal morphs into another with boxes of chocolates and Turkish Delights to fill in any gaps, washed down with copious volumes of Baileys that, if you’re lucky, will send you to sleep before you have to start playing charades. Hopefully you won’t be personally affected by the annual spike in domestic violence or the rise of depression and suicide around Christmas time, but I guarantee that you’ll know somebody who does.
I could probably cope if Christmas happened once a decade instead of once a year; on the multiples of 10 for convenience. The build-up to it would be understandable, the excitement palpable. An opportunity to reflect on the decade just passed, and to look forward to the one to come. I’d be looking forward to my sixth Christmas, and my son to his third. A tenth of the waste, a tenth of the debt... I can’t seem to convince anybody of the merits of this idea, so perhaps I’ll have to start the trend myself. Ignore all the other so-called Christmases, but Christmas 2020 is going to be brilliant!