Sunday, December 09, 2007

The Mem speaks...again: Surviving Christmas

Hello dears and early season’s greetings! I have to admit that the festive season does not seem to bring out the best in my husband, Wilfred. You may think of him as opinionated but jovial Colonel Moseley, but in some ways he resembles Scrooge more and more.

This year, for example, he said that my Christmas present “would be something money can’t buy.” Naturally, I was excited at this prospect and racked my brain as to what it might be.

You can imagine how I felt to be told it was being allowed to write something for the Colonel’s weblog at the start of the festive season. Call me shallow, but try as I might and honoured though I was, I would have preferred something money can buy, such as shoes or some jewellery.

This entirely typical behaviour set me wondering how I manage to get through Yuletide each year. I thought I would use this “special present” to share with you my top ten tips on how to survive Christmas:

Be specific: if you are asked what you would like for Christmas, don’t be coy and disingenuously say “Oh, I don’t know. Just something small” because that’s what you will end up with. Be clear, precise and honest. You may not be surprised, but stand less chance of being disappointed with a toast rack or set of table mats.

Make sure he keeps the receipt: ensure that your other-half or relatives understand that it is absolutely essential that receipts are kept to ensure that any mistakes in size or taste can be rectified by exchange or cash refund very early in January.

Christmas presents are a serious business: gifts are powerful things. They have the capacity to thrill, annoy, disappoint, depress, send messages and cement or wreck relationships. In most families selecting gifts or interpreting their significance requires the insight and understanding of the diplomat. Be casual at your peril. Never forget: it’s the thoughtfulness that counts.

Be realistic about the amount of food and provisions required: honestly, it’s not a siege or competition. No-one will die - or even notice – if you can’t get five packets of Marks & Spencer smoked salmon and blinis to go with drinks on Christmas Eve.

Enjoy the run-up to Christmas Day: I always think the weeks before are the nicest part, when the tree and decorations are up and can be enjoyed and the over-consumption hasn’t started. Christmas Day itself is vastly overrated and seems to be over in a dyspeptic flash.

Avoid Christmas shopping in the January or summer sales: let Christmas take care of itself at the right time. Life is far too short to be shopping for Christmas gifts in frozen January or in a summer heat-wave. Why not enjoy what each season has to bring in its own right?

Avoid Christmas-based clothing: A dog is not just for Christmas, but jingle bells socks are not for Christmas or any other time – nor are festive Yuletide ties, tee shirts, jumpers, reindeer slippers or battery-powered flashing earrings or swivelling bow ties.

Stock up on alcohol: one of the main advantages of the festive season is that one can go to the off-licence or booze warehouse and buy vast quantities of wine and spirits without appearing a lush. With a little forethought, stocks can keep one going well into March. It almost makes Christmas worthwhile.

Keep in touch with friends and family: it has become a cliché to be cynical and criticise cards and gatherings at Christmas. Without this one major reminder in the year, think of all the people with whom you might lose contact. Embarrassingly, in this respect, Christmas serves a constructive purpose, although it’s unfortunate that postage is so ridiculously expensive and some of the family are such hard work.

Enjoy the rest: Christmas does come at that grim time midway between holidays and before the worst winter weather. It is a good time for a rest and to pull up the drawbridge and enjoy Brief Encounter on television with a gin and tonic and box of Milk Tray or, as my nephew Egbert says, “Whatever floats your boat”.

I hope you share some of my views on the festive season. Wilfred joins me in wishing you all a Happy Christmas and whatever floats your boats in the New Year. Bye, dears.

*this piece also appeared in Birmingham 13