Life Christmas

Saturday 19 October 2019

How middle class is your Christmas?

From stocking up on spiced beef to cleansing the house of tinsel, Bill Linnane details the 12 biggest cliches of the festive season

It’s a wrap: Your gift had better be Irish-made, while tinsel on your tree is a no-no
It’s a wrap: Your gift had better be Irish-made, while tinsel on your tree is a no-no
Bill Linnane

Bill Linnane

There are few events in the annual calendar more middle class than Christmas, save perhaps the Grand National, Irish Open or Ideal Homes Exhibition. It is a time of year to gather round the Rangemaster in the back kitchen, earnestly discussing your fear of the hard left with neighbours you don't really like, sipping some M&S mulled wine out of Waterford Crystal glasses wrapped in artisanal kitchen roll. No need to turn on the heating, as your own smugness keeps you nice and toasty. But wait - what if you aren't having the most middle class Christmas possible?

Here are 12 key signs that should clear up any concerns.

1. Debating when Christmas actually starts

The debate over when the decorations go up is one that rages in the middle class home. The younger generation try to force a December 1 kick off, but the more traditional (which is code for religious) among us know that to do it before December 8 is a mortal sin.

Granted, this makes December 8 a perfect storm - you need to get all the stuff down from the attic, source a quality natural tree (this year there is no such thing, as they are all lopsided thanks to an actual perfect storm named Ophelia), and still make it into your nearest city to bumble about attempting to get all your shopping done in one chaotic 24-hour period. Best to follow the advice of D'Unbelievables and have breakfast the night before to get a head start on the day.

2. Discussion of how Roses symbolise our decline

The cheese board comes after the middle class dinner
The cheese board comes after the middle class dinner

The fall of Irish society can easily be traced by one annual event - the diminishing appearance of tins of Roses. Firstly, they aren't even tins anymore, but rather some sort of soulless plastic, which means you can't use them as a long-term storage for leftover pudding or cake, but it is in their decrease in mass that we can see how we are failing future generations. The whole family discuss how, back in the olden times - i.e., when things were great - a tin of Roses was the size of an indoor swimming pool, and there was enough chocolate to give the entire extended family Type II diabetes. Now there is barely enough for grandad to choke on, and the new wrappers should come with their own instruction manual. The whole country has gone to the dogs.

3. Giving Irish-made gifts

During the December 8 trolley dash, it's important you charge into the Kilkenny Design store to stock up on Irish gifts. You aren't entirely sure how to ascertain the Irishness of the items you buy, but feel fairly certain Irish people were involved if they are vastly overpriced and made from scratchy wool that would not be tolerated by other nations. It also helps if the packaging has a picture of a dolmen on it.

4. The quest for spiced beef

Walk of life: If you feel the need to go for a brisk walk on Christmas Day, you are definitely middle class
Walk of life: If you feel the need to go for a brisk walk on Christmas Day, you are definitely middle class

A regional delicacy, the hunt for a good joint of spiced beef takes on aspects of a Homeric odyssey. Advice is sought from all quarters on which guilded butcher is best; do they have craft or artisan in the name? No? Well then they can burn in hell. Once the most artisanal producer is selected, the order is placed well in advance, usually the start of February, because another aspect of being middle class is being tragically well-organised. Of course, nobody actually eats spiced beef, as it is terrible.

5. Which turkey to buy?

Bronze turkeys are better. You have no idea why, or what bronze means (Is it wearing fake tan? Is it an Olympian? Is it the bird from one of those old penny coins?), but somehow it seems superior to the ordinary loser turkey (technically they are all losers as they all get eaten) most people have.

You get bonus points if you actually hand select the turkey on the farm, as this shows you are connected to the land and your place in the food chain, i.e., at the top of it.

If you are considering a goose, you have transcended middle classness altogether and are now 'posh', and therefore an exile in your own land. You probably call Stephen's Day Boxing Day too.

6. Cheese board

The modern incarnation of those little hedgehog displays made from a pineapple, cheese cubes and cocktail sticks, the cheese board is really only suited to festive ads on TV, as everyone is already on the verge of a cardiac arrest and the last thing their arteries need is a solid tonne of unpasteurised lard injected into them.

Nonetheless, a cheese board appears, with everyone forced to pretend they know which weird knife is meant to be used with which cheese. Later on the knives will be used by children pretending to have a Klingon honour ritual.

7. Midnight Mass

It's Mass, but more traditional. It also follows the middle class tradition of preparedness, by giving you a clear run at the following day so you can baste the turkey every 15 minutes for its full six-hour cooking time. Of course, being up this late on Christmas Eve opens another can of festive worms - when to open the presents. Do you do it Christmas Eve, half cut on port, or on Christmas morning, half cut on mulled wine?

Here's a handy guide: if you do it on Christmas morning, your inner child is alive and well and is still caught up in the joy of Christmas. If you do it Christmas Eve, you are admitting that you are old, that there is no magic in this world, and you have suffocated your inner child with cheese and port.

8. White lights, no tinsel

Tinsel is a little Eighties, n'est pas? So you subject your tree (and yourself) to a 60-yard length of fairy lights - in minimalist white only - and some 4,000 baubles. This is a great idea, as it turns dressing the tree into an extended game of Buckaroo, as you endeavour to get the baubles on the tree while a psychotic toddler, out of their head on those cherry Roses nobody eats, endeavours to knock them all off by kicking the tree like a proto-lumberjack.

9. Physical activity

For two days a year it is okay to sit and do nothing: Christmas Day and St Stephen's Day. The middle classes feel chronic guilt about this, as they do about almost everything else, and so a brisk walk is needed on one or both of the mornings.

This is carried out in the name of "working up an appetite" or "working off that cheese board", and will see the group wrap up in their new scratchy wool scarves and head out.

Whilst on the walk, the group will beam and greet every other walker they see as though they were long lost friends.

These are the only days of the year when being friendly to strangers is deemed 'not weird' and is not something that should be carried through to the New Year as some sort of terrible resolution.

10. New Year's resolutions

Everyone else knows they are a waste of time. Yet each year you set yourself a new, insanely high bar - peak fitness, no more cigars, eat less cheese - and each February 1 you ditch all your big plans and just continue as normal in a general state of shame and that most middle class of feelings, disappointment.

11. Disappointment, the gift that keeps on giving

The middle class understand that things are okay but could probably be better, which is why every single gift comes not just with a gift receipt but a loud declaration that the receipt is with the gift, information that is shared before the person has even got the present.

"If you don't like it you can take it back" you nervously titter, as they stare in confusion at the set of Irish-made cheese knives and dolmen-shaped cheese board.

12. Bickering

Much like the centuries-long storms on Jupiter, the middle class family is in a constant state of friction.

It rarely hits full-on arguing, unless someone cheats at Monopoly, or denies that Liam deserved to win Bake Off, but it is always there, a constant loving hum of good-natured ribbing over what colour turkey should be, where to buy the best cranberry sauce, or who was meant to pick up the red cabbage in M&S.

Then, after three long days locked in the house together, we all go our separate ways, simultaneously breathing a sigh of relief while also counting down the days until next year.

Irish Independent

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