I don’t wish to go all bah humbug on you, but I have to confess that this has been the most meh Christmas and New Year that I can remember. I don’t know why; I suspect it’s personal rather than anything to do with the zeitgeist, but although I can remember Christmases when I was sad or depressed or hung over (besides the Christmases I can’t remember because I was permanently drunk) I can’t remember a season when I was so – well, unenthusiastic. I guess this is what children are for: just when you become jaded with the idea of getting drunk every year, you get married and have your own children – and so now that I’m bored with it all I’m ready for some grandchildren.
It wasn’t always thus: Christmases in my childhood were very traditional. They began with an Advent calendar (the windows opened on pictures which you could enjoy every day, not a stupid chocolate which was gone in a second) – no, I tell a lie, it began in the summer with the creation of home made Christmas puddings and cake: my mother would no more have dreamed of buying these items than of dressing up as an angel and flying around the kitchen.
We awoke to the traditional stocking presents; then after breakfast we would go to church. Then the sherry would come out and the lunch preparations would begin in earnest. Everyone came to us as we had the largest house; the food was cooked in the vast, high-ceilinged kitchen and brought through to the large dining-room table. After lunch we always watched the Queen (who, then as now, had practically nothing to say) before having our pudding and mince pies. Puddings were set alight in a darkened room by dousing them in brandy.
After the clearing-up (and not a moment before) we would open our main presents. Not for us the children tired of presents before lunchtime: we had to wait almost the whole day for ours. After this the adults (I kid you not) would go upstairs to dress for the evening (my mother had a long green velvet skirt which always came out at this time of year) and then we would settle down for games.
As a child I always wanted to have the TV on since in those days if you missed something you’d missed it: we must have foregone more Morecambe and Wise Christmas shows than anyone in the entire country. Mind you, they’ve all been on a thousand times since, along with biopics and documentaries and reconstructions of how they came to be made.
But the games! Charades was a staple but we had loads: one was a version of Blind Man’s Buff called Squeak, Piggy Squeak! where a blindfolded victim was turned round and round while everyone changed places. He or she then had to approach someone in a chair, place a cushion on their lap and chant the immortal words, ‘squeak, piggy, squeak!’ The person would then squeak, disguising their voice as much as possible. If the blindfolded one guessed their identity then they were blindfolded in turn, and so the game went on.
As well as these we had cupboards full of board games such as monopoly and ludo, card games such as cribbage (my grandfather made the boards himself) and a net, ball and bats which could transform the dining table into a ping-pong table, albeit one whose fluted edges made the balls ping off at impossible angles.
New Year, by contrast, was pretty much a non-event: my parents rarely stayed up to see in the New Year and when I was old enough I either did a shift at the pub where I worked or went up to Trafalgar Square with friends. One memorable year I met friends in London and we all got totally hammered (come to think of it, that must have been a great night, since I don’t remember it at all…)
Nowadays Christmas is very muted; just a handful of us gather with a mix of veggie and turkey breasts; we watch the Queen and light the pudding in a desultory sort of way, drink a fair amount of wine and then go into a slump. And as for New Year… well, this time we went to bed early, like the pathetic old people we are.
Like I say, it’s all been very, very meh.