By Hayley Doyle
Once September falls into October, the countdown to Christmas begins.
For many, it’s too early. They won’t hear of the C-word until the day they open the first door of their advent calendar. But for me, I get butterflies once we hit July. It means we’re closer to Christmas rather than further away from it. I envisage the cosy lighting in my home. The scented cinnamon candles. The endless jingle-jangle of entertainment on Netflix. The chocolate. And you might declare me Officially Bonkers, but I even embrace that damn elf on the shelf.
So, why do I love it?
I could go on and on about the magic of Christmas. How I truly do believe there’s something in the air. I’ve written about believing in Santa. I know that during the build-up to the big day, I feel different, from head to toe. Hopeful, perhaps? Nostalgic? Whimsical? But I have to admit, with a heavy heart, that something is standing between me and my love for Christmas. And that something isn’t specific. It’s a jumbled mess. An angry cloud of thick smoke.
For a start, a global pandemic hasn’t helped. For two years on the trot, Covid made the Grinch look like an angel. In 2020, Christmas was canceled. Families were kept apart. If it wasn’t for online shopping, the North Pole would have shut down and its unlikely they would have received any government support. The world took it on the chin, understanding that this was a One-Off. That next year, things would be back to normal again. But ho-ho no! How wrong we are. Just as potatoes were being roasted and bows were being tied, Omicron appeared like coal in the bottom of a stocking for naughty kids. For many, it was another lonely, sickly Christmas.
Now, it’s tremendous how the vaccination rollout has helped the world get back on its feet again. But, even as I write this today, I receive a message from my childminder saying, ‘Sorry, I have Covid’. So although the countdown to Christmas this year isn’t lockdown-dreary, is anybody really sitting snug in their safety net? Or has everybody’s annual excitement been replaced with tentative nerves? We were thrown into a new normal of plans being cancelled again and again. The force was so strong that it’s going to take time to recover. Every time I book something special, as I hit ‘buy’ and receive my confirmation email, my first instinct isn’t to look forward to the event. It’s to cross my fingers and hope it all goes, well, to plan. Anybody else?
Then again, look around. Christmas is determined to happen. Celebrities are filling the shoes of princesses and dames in pantomimes. Replica North Poles with giant gingerbread houses are being constructed for children to ensure their list gets straight to Santa. German markets are making preparations to pop up in all corners of the globe, selling artisan treats and crafty trinkets. Toy advertisements continue to amaze, making the smallest piece of bright plastic look like a must-have, even though it needs an endless stream of AA batteries. Insta-foodies are inspiring those who struggle with the instructions on a microwave meal, with their slickly edited videos and “easy” recipes for party food, reminding you to host, host, host…
…Woah! Look, if any of the above suddenly made you feel overwhelmed, I apologise. However, rest assured, you’re not alone. Yes, Christmas wants to come back, brighter and shinier than ever, and goodness knows the world needs some sparkle. But at what cost? As every business fumbles for business, scraping back their losses and praying to keep their heads above water, the pressure is on for consumers. We’re enticed by all this fun and festivity, but we also can’t afford any of it.
As the cost of living continues to rise and bills look set to skyrocket, the joys of Christmas aren’t giving us the opportunity for much joy. Prices have inevitably had to go up. A family outing to see a show is now a huge chunk of next month’s mortgage. Tickets to Santa’s grotto are extortionate, not to mention the mind-boggling fact that many are already sold out! Who are these uber-organised parents booking tickets in the summer? Show yourselves (and let us know if you get a discount if you book earlier, wink-wink). But we somehow want to spend. We want to throw money at the magic, willing it to be real. We feel like if we don’t, we’ll be as cold-hearted as Ebenezer Scrooge, and the last few years of turmoil will have beaten us.
Online shopping has changed how we shop for gifts, too. While it's extremely convenient, it’s also forcing us to spend more time sucked into our screens. When we do a “quick” google for an item, it’s an understatement to say that the choices we are presented with are vast. It’s actually grotesque. Let’s say I want to order red napkins for the table; three hours later, I’m still scrolling through various brands and shades, materials, quantity, price, delivery dates…then I’m reading the company’s story, finding out if they’re a small business, eco-friendly…and I’m pretty devastated that I’ve wasted an evening of precious time online (and still not bought anything). So don’t get me started on presents. I’ve missed browsing the shops and seeing something jump out at me that I think, yes, my dad would love that. So I’m hoping to dedicate a day to Christmas shopping this year, although my intention is laced with anxiety; crowds, train strikes, traffic, lack of stock, hefty price tags, the lot.
I never wanted to be the cynical grown-up who sees Christmas as a commercial pull for consumerists. However, I’ve also never been one to shy away from the truth. This year, all over the world, Christmas will be a mighty struggle. For some, there won’t even be a Christmas, when in previous years, they’ve celebrated in abundance. So as shop windows prepare wonderful displays and town centres hang their twinkling lights, my heart aches for those who can’t see the beauty, but are feeling the pain of their current situation and fears of what’s to come.
This year, I will endeavour to recreate moments from my past that made me love Christmas in the first place. Making time to watch Santa Claus: The Movie, Home Alone and The Family Stone is always worthwhile. I want to visit my nan and her dancing snowman music box that’s been in our family since I was a child, and watch my own kids laugh at it. I’m going to eat cheese without feeling guilty, and when I remove the Quality Street lid, I’ll sniff the wrapped chocolates. Whenever I’m in the kitchen, I’ll ask Alexa to play Slade, Wham, Chris Rea and Mariah, because even after 40 odd years on this crazy planet, I still don’t know all the words to those songs! Maybe it’s important for us to get back to our roots and to celebrate what contributed to us once being a glass half full kind of person, rather than a glass half empty.