Saturday 16 December 2017

Jingle hell: Suzanne Harrington is a mother who hates Christmas...

Grinch: Suzanne
with her children,
Felix and Lola
Grinch: Suzanne with her children, Felix and Lola

Suzanne Harrington

Children, look away now. For I am the Grinch of Grinches, the humbug of humbugs, the scro-ogest of Scrooges -- I'm a mummy who hates Christmas. Am I even allowed to say that out loud? Because I do.

I flipping hate it. From the factory mince pies on sale in September to your ears being sandblasted by Slade and Jona Lewie all through November and December to tinsel-covered offices, Lidl party food and all that ersatz bonhomie.

Sorry. Can't stand it.

I hate how Christmas turns up uninvited year in year out, and every year we are supposed to act as though it is the best thing ever.

I hate the annual commodification of our desires for comfort and security via all those emotionally manipulative TV ads telling us to make it 'perfect' and 'the best ever'.

I hate the uniform sparkly party frocks, the lifestyle supplements telling you how to be fabulously original in your gift-buying -- that is, bankrupting yourself on posh rubbish -- while the really skint must make do with cheap supermarket 'gifts' more useless, low quality and overpackaged than your average Easter egg.

I hate how Christmas starts earlier every year. Now that we are all in financial ruin, corporate forces can legitimately start their bombardment in late summer, on the grounds that they are helping us 'plan' our Primary Gifting Period.

This is what they call Christmas. No kidding. Thanks, guys.

Mostly, I hate being told what to celebrate (excess, dressed up as festivity) and how to celebrate it (via compulsory spending), because if I don't, I will be letting the side down.

There are millions of us who detest the December frenzy, which explains the huge amount of mid-winter flights to places far, far away where there is no such thing as Christmas pudding, Brussels sprouts or St Stephen's Day sales.

Where Delia, Nigella, Jamie and Heston are weird foreign names. Where Christmas barely registers.

It's places like these that I have always gravitated to for Christmas. Places like India.

But if you're a mummy, can you ever turn to your children, doe-eyed with expectation, and say, 'Sorry kids, I can't be bothered with all the Christmas hoopla this year'?

Of course you can't. You utter monster. Which is why, for the past 10 Decembers -- as long as I've been a mummy -- I have sucked it up. I have done Christmas at home. With bells on.

You know, squirrelling away presents, over-spending, worrying if I have forgotten anything, rushing out again when I have, dragging home enormous trees and knackering myself getting them vertical, lugging boxes of baubles down the stairs and trying to get the fairy lights to work, staying up all night wrapping awkward shapes.

I do it properly. When Santa Claus visits our house, he leaves trails of sparkles and boot prints in the fireplace. His reindeers get carrots and he gets mince pies. The house glows with candles and coloured lights.

It's very pretty, but not as pretty as Diwali on an Indian beach.

Girding myself against the Christmas supermarket scrum to buy food I don't like, I make sure that I tick all the traditionalist boxes, so that my kids won't ever have to tell their future therapists that they had Rice Krispies for Christmas lunch instead of the whole shebang at a table groaning under food, candles and fresh holly.

It's not that I resent my kids for being normal and loving Christmas. When I signed up for parenthood, Christmas was part of the deal, like sleepless nights and puréed porridge.

Plus I don't mind Christmas Day itself, once all the fuss is over. The private indoor aspect of Christmas -- the Danish idea of hygge, or spending time with loved ones in cosy candlelit warmth, with good food -- is intimate and lovely.

It's just reaching this point which drives me mental.

But I do all the other stuff because I remember how much I loved Christmas as a kid, and how much my kids love it now, especially that first hour on Christmas morning when we gather in our pyjamas to open the presents.

Obviously, you would need to be a Mr Burns-level misanthrope not to like that part, but we are still talking only about an hour here. All that hoo-ha for an hour?

This year, I am taking this one special hour and transporting it far away. My children are now 11 and eight, and have been making sarcastic comments about Santa Claus for years.

This year, they will not be stuffing their faces with chocolate reindeer at dawn. They will not be slumped in front of the telly, semi-comatose from overeating and in bicker mode.

No, they will instead be in an eco-resort in south India, in palm-leaf huts with sacred cows wandering around the beach outside.

It will all be on a shoestring, but then the best trips always are. They will be having the kind of Christmas I used to have until the last time I came back from India, pregnant with the oldest one, and dutifully planted my Christmas tree on European soil for the next decade.

They hate the idea of going anywhere except home for Christmas. I'm working on the assumption that they'll love India once they get there, and have suggested to them that they approach this as a Yuletide experiment which need not be repeated if unsuccessful.

What about Santa Claus, they have been asking, suddenly all wide-eyed with belief again. What about the tree and the presents?

I have told them that there will still be presents (I'm bringing their Christmas stockings), and that this year the Christmas tree will be palm instead of fir.

As our departure date nears, they are reluctantly becoming more excited, despite themselves. The thought of weeks bunked off school and talk of elephants and monkeys are slowly changing their minds.

Sorry if this all sounds bah- humbug. It's not the idea of a mid-winter break from routine which I object to -- far from it.

It's not the baby Jesus aspect either -- I respect the religious part of Christmas as I respect Hannukah, Eid or Diwali, although I'm more familiar with the Jesus story.

It's just that this story is a long way from the compulsory spending, shopping, wrapping, eating, traditions, jollity and excess that is modern Christmas.

Maybe the fact that our world is in economic tatters means that we can rebuild Christmas -- a leaner, sleeker, more meaningful model, with the emphasis on hygge.

Or maybe I am just a selfish adult bored of doing the same thing year in year out. Maybe during the uncertainty of a recession it's the very structure of tradition that keeps us feeling safe and reassured -- things might be grim, but at least we still have Brussels sprouts.

Maybe dragging kids away at Christmas is tantamount to emotional cruelty.

Is it selfish to reject this most family-oriented of public holidays? Is it monstrous to hate Christmas? Do you know what -- I no longer care. Sorry. Happy Whatever.

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