I received my first Christmas card today. No sooner have you put the last Yuletide nightmare behind you and it’s time for the next. What a pointless waste. Although it’s not pointless of course. Like taxes, it exists to generate income for those smart, or cynical, enough to manipulate it. Christ lived so we could make a buck or two.
Personally I can’t be bothered any more. The whole ghastly thing makes me want to weep. Usually I try and skip the country in favour of a bit of sunshine and solitude. Escape the short days and long nights, the endless grey drizzle, the annual brawl in the turkey aisle at M&S that makes a night club on Coldharbour Lane seem convivial by comparison, and the inevitable farrago of family rows and existential discontentments played out over the backdrop of yet another re-run of Only Fools and Horses. There’s only so many times I can watch David Jason falling comedically through a gap in a bar top before it begins to drive me towards a nervous breakdown. So, usually I prefer to get on an airplane and head for a place where they can’t even pronounce Coca Cola, let alone Santa.
But not this year. This year holidays are a-coming. This year I shall be doing the same as any self respecting middle class Londoner, namely punching fellow passengers out of my path as I make a dive for the last remaining seat on the 15.33 to Crewe, in the process accidentally dribbling the cold remains of my eggnog latte onto the bald pate of the equally wretched fellow now sitting beside me. Oh God. How mind bogglingly monstrous. It makes me feel profoundly depressed. And the more I sit here feeling sorry for myself the more depressing it becomes.
But it’s equally monstrous of me to drivel on so self-pityingly. Self-pity is a pathetic sight.
So I turn my mind, reluctantly if I’m honest, to others. What of others at Christmas time? What about those people who seem not to have a family or friends with whom to share the warmth of Christmas? In this peculiar fragmented society we’ve created, what happens to them on Christmas day and for the interminable weeks running up to it? How rubbish are we to make them feel about themselves as we play out the empty charade of warmth and love under the family Christmas tree, whilst they sit alone in a chilly dank bedsit in Harlesden, or even in a plush tropical mansion block in Kensington. What difference? Loneliness is just as sorrowful in a fur coat as it is in an old fleece.
If Christmas really were the time at which we put ourselves aside and think of others then wouldn't we be doing something as a community to work together to support each other, rather than tanking up Aunty Lily on cheap sweet sherry so she doesn’t hear the domestic meltdown over who burned the goose for the umpteenth year in a row and why the gravy's gone lumpy. Maybe I’m just being naïve but it makes me sad. I feel I should be doing more, or at least doing something, to improve things for others. But what to do? It all sounds so horribly evangelical and self-gratifying.
My wonderful friend Nicky is planning to take her two charming twenty-something sons to help out at the soup kitchen for the day. What an inspiring thing. That’s what I should do and in an odd way that’s what a part of me would like to do.
But what will I do? In all likelihood I’ll sit on the sofa stuffing mince pies down myself, waiting for it to end and feeling terrible for not having done something worthwhile, something generous for a change. The irony is that even from an entirely selfish perspective I really do think it would be a far more gratifying experience to spend the day, or a part of it at least, helping other people - possibly total strangers, possibly not - who aren’t able to help themselves.
Instead of kidding myself that gift giving is my annual altruistic and kindly act, perhaps I should experiment with putting my credit cards away this Christmas and giving from my heart rather than my wallet. Why though is that so much harder than it sounds?