Sunday 20 April 2014

Why I don't do Christmas

Bah, humbug! Mothers should stuff the turkey and they'd have a much merrier Christmas, says Maxine Jones

Maxine Jones sits out the Christmas festivities

Some people love Christmas, many others, women, mostly, simply feel obliged to do it. I'm calling on them to rebel. Stuff the turkey! If you don't want to do it, just don't.

This is my third year of not doing it and I'm enjoying the frantic build-up because I can stand apart from it. I don't have to do it. I don't have to organise and panic and worry about creating a perfect family scenario. I've bailed out. I can relax and enjoy the holiday. Must be what it feels like to be a man.

I've been enjoying this feeling of liberation since early September. That's when, in my previous life, the shadow of Christmas would first loom and the niggles would start to resurface about where to have the dinner, and who not to offend, and why my family gathering would never match the ones in the ads.

Those images are manipulative, commercial ploys. The countdown a way of making us panic buy. We know all this. Yet we obey because if we don't we are mean-spirited social outcasts or plain pitiful, like the Little Matchgirl looking in at the window. If we don't buy into this fictional Christmas scenario, we are lost souls.

The Christmas, we get we deserve. The trap is sprung. We bow to the tradition of the Coca-Cola Santa.

The first year was the hardest as nobody believed I wouldn't do it. You can say you don't believe in God and nobody bats an eyelid. Say you're not doing Christmas and people's jaws drop. Heretic!

After family and friends got no presents from me that first Christmas-free year, they no longer expect them. And my gift to them is one less person to buy for.

My kids are grown. I wouldn't have felt able to take on this freedom when they were little.

They are free to create their own ideal Christmas if they want. Three boys aged 18, 20 and 22, they don't bother. Last year, one hauled a Christmas tree into the front garden.

"Fine," I said. "You set it up and get the decorations. I won't object. It's just that I'm not doing it." The tree is still in the front garden.

If my kids want to sit down for dinner with me on December 25 and have turkey, they can. What they won't have is a tree and decorations, or presents, or crackers pulled with elderly relatives.

At my house they can have peace and goodwill, a rarity, I've heard, in the households that do celebrate Christmas.

As I'm divorced, they have the option of going to their father's place for Christmas Day. I'm not sure whether he goes in for all the tree and decoration stuff, but then I don't think people would hold it against him if he didn't. It seems to be mothers, after all, who are the custodians of the ideal Christmas. They are like fairies who magically make everything happen.

A colleague told me about the present-opening ceremony at her house one year. Everyone sat in a circle exchanging presents. Her mother handed a present over to her brother. He took it. Then there was a pause. He looked around in panic. Only at this moment did it strike him that he had nothing to give her.

He later blamed his sisters, who he assumed would have bought something for her and included him as a donor. As the pause continued I can imagine the disappointment in the mother's eyes, and more poignantly, the resignation and forgiveness.

Before I had kids, I successfully ignored Christmas. I was living in London, where many local shops remained open on Christmas Day.

When I was a child in the Sixties, my parents did the full-blown Christmas, filling pillowcases with toys and decorating the house. It was fun, and something I'm glad I re-created for my own kids when they were small.

When my parents separated, my father would reappear on Christmas Day so we could all sit down and eat Christmas dinner together. That was awful. We had become victims of the powerful Christmas myth churned out by the television, of the image rather than the reality. Once Christmas becomes a forced affair, stretched on the rack of externally imposed parameters, it turns into the hellish Christmas many of us recognise.

Now I've made my peace with Christmas. I tend to avoid shops with the Christmas songs on a loop and avert my eyes and breathe deeply when I see a car with reindeer antlers, but I'm really not letting it bother me.

It saddens me to see children so avidly focused on what they are going to get. And housewives who feel that at Christmas, not only the happiness of their family but also the cleanliness of their home is up for inspection. The stores profit: get your new TV, settee, curtains, stair carpet -- quick before the Day of Judgment.

It annoys me when consumerism masquerades as spirituality, but once I recognise that nobody is forced to comply, it annoys me less. I think it's time to lose the stigma against people, especially mothers, who don't want to do it.

Since I've started broadcasting my views, several people have said they feel the same, but feel they can't do anything about it. But you can. Do nothing. You've nothing to lose but your paper chains. And for people who love Christmas and everything it entails -- have a good one!

Maxine Jones is a stand-up comedian. Her show Embarrassing Mother is currently touring and she hosts the Wicked Wolf Comedy Club, Blackrock, Co Dublin, every Tuesday fortnight.

Irish Independent

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