I realise that this is a little premature, but there is so much admin to get through these days – scanning the internet, matching gift and price with impecunious aunt and miserly cousin, making allowance for the additional time involved in shipping deliveries without lorry drivers that means that you will not know that something is out of stock until some time in March, not to mention the simple logistics of finding somebody with an open fire who is prepared to let you shove your note up their chimney in the certain knowledge that it might play merry hell with their flue. You may be well ahead of me, but my Christmas planning starts here:
- First on everybody’s list of things to do before ‘the day’ is the traditional visit to ‘Ye Olde German Xmas Fayre and Market’ in the only town in the county without a single car parking space and a train station that stands a two-hour yomp from your destination. The burning disappointment of this event is a seasonal rite of passage as fundamental to the occasion as kneeling on the glass baubles and attempting to get the dog to cough up the turkey wishbone. You will be surrounded by so many desperate people that you will not notice that your credit card has gone missing until you attempt to use your absent mobile phone in order to report the drunken Santa for swearing loudly at the Elves. Fortunately, this state of penury will insulate you against the temptation to buy hand-made penis-shaped Christmas baubles, felt Santa hats with flashing lights, a novelty scarf that plays ‘I Saw Mummy Kissing Santa Claus’ and which unravels before you reach the nearest bin, gluhwein that both looks and tastes like drain cleaner and a hot dog that is only one of the two – and that isn’t hot. Female toilet arrangements that involve a single portaloo and a queue that would take a week to clear even if the flush was working. Male arrangements that involve a bush. By the time you manage to find your way out of the yuletide melee, you will have sore feet, three full squirts of tomato ketchup down your crotch and the conviction that the withered Christmas Special turkey ‘n’ bread sauce bap at the Rat & Cockle is maybe not so bad after all. The bottom will have fallen out of your bag for life, the flicker will have gone out of your L.E.D candle and the sparkle in your eye will have been caused by a faulty glitter canon and will require four hours in Casualty to get it removed. YOGXF&M is traditionally held at the beginning of November and may be cancelled if the weather is not perfect e.g. cold and raining. It is no place for children. The pall of shattered-illusion hanging over the event will be visible from Mars.
- Second on the list is the traditional trip to Poundland in the search for gifts for all the people you do not like but who always insist on sending you something inappropriate for Christmas. It is best to choose something that will not survive unwrapping as it cannot then be re-parcelled and sent to you next year. Remember that in most cases, the packaging will be far more robust than the contents. Cheap chocolate is always an acceptable gift, especially for diabetic friends, who will have the perfect excuse for not touching it. This can also be a suitable occasion on which to purchase a whole pack of Christmas Crackers that do not ‘crack’ and feature a range of gifts all of which will result in a trip to A&E with the baby, and a joke that didn’t quite survive the translation from Taiwanese.
- Update your Christmas Card List. Begin by crossing out all of the people who did not send you a card last year, all of those with whom you have agreed not to exchange cards, all of those who you have completely forgotten ever having known and all of those who laughed when your knickers fell down in the Parent’s Sack race at last summer’s school sports day. Do not attempt to personalise the message in each card as it will only lead to confusion when the cards are placed in the wrong envelope for delivery to a thirteen years out-of-date address. Leave them in the box with the intention of getting them in the post before the last posting day. Throw them in the bin when you next find them in April.
- Prepare the sprouts. Christmas sprouts require at least eight weeks cooking before they go in the bin.
- Plan the Christmas Menu. Don’t forget the practicalities: how big a turkey can you fit in the oven; how big a turkey can you fit in the bath when it hasn’t defrosted by Christmas Eve; why do the pigs always throw the blankets off during cooking; why does grandad always manage to get a cocktail stick wedged under his top set? Properly planned (e.g. ordered through ‘Just Eat’) Christmas dinner can be a stress-free experience. Lock anyone with whom you may have a difference of opinion out of the kitchen – or preferably the house – and never attempt to follow grandma’s traditional recipe for anything: it is a doomed enterprise and the recriminations will persist for years. If you plan to set fire to the pudding make sure that Uncle Derek has insured his wig.
- Write down – or preferably print so that there can be no mistakes – your own Christmas Gift List. Include all makes and specifications. Do not be vague. ‘A nice perfume’ in the hands of a vindictive aunt may well be something with which you would strip down pine furniture. ‘A box of chocolates’ will have a petrol station price ticket and a sell by date from the 1980’s. If you want a bottle of gin that hasn’t come out of an enamel bath in a disused car battery factory state the make. Include a number of inexpensive alternatives, but not so many that your spouse can get away with buying one.
- Take all necessary steps to eliminate stress. Sell the cat, farm the kids out to relations, feign illness and, if at all possible, move without leaving a forwarding address.
- Do not buy in so much alcohol that you think it safe to start drinking it beforehand, but also do not be tempted by last year’s advocaat. It may look innocuous, but at heart it is twelve month old custard with a garnish of British Sherry.
- Find blanket to pull over head until second week of January.