Fin and I made our way around the supermarket today, creating a modest pile of nuts, toilet paper, sheep's yogurt and some much needed new mugs. As Fin had control of the trolley (somewhat too enthusiastically for my nerves) we took a different route to my usual skirt around the edge where the real food lives. I looked up from the shopping list to see Fin careering along the Christmas aisle, where gold and red shone amongst frosted baubles and smiling Santas. Around us, people were accumulating tins of chocolates, advent calendars, cheap mass produced decorations, festive napkins and plastic nik naks to fill stockings, knowing all the while that when January rolled round again, they would fill their bins with the same, broken, chewed, screwed up and discarded.
I remember that feeling of needing to fill Christmas with stuff. The lure of a luscious pine tree, forest scented and laden with baubles, needles falling as it baked in the warmth of a centrally heated home. The long list of friends, family and colleagues to purchase gifts for, nights spent crafting presents, making and writing cards, baking huge, richly fruited cakes and puddings, unwrapping them each week for another dose of brandy and finally a thick blanket of yellow marzipan and sweet spiky icing.
I remember a vague feeling of anxiety that I wouldn't get everything done in time, that my presents would not be perfectly chosen, cards would not arrive on time, gifts left unwrapped until the mad dash of Christmas eve. I loved it too, because who doesn't love to give? I loved the process of gifting, of choosing and then wrapping those symbols of my regard as gorgeously as possible with coloured paper and ribbon.
One year I even worked in the Christmas department at Liberty on Regent Street. Like a child in a sweet store, I touched the tree decorations reverently, planning and re-planning my tree daily. There were glass pears that seemed to have been shaken with sugar, bunches of iridescent grapes, long silky tassles, little wooden soldiers with moving limbs, smiling babushkas and boxes of glass baubles in a pantone range of mouth watering hues. Come New Year's day, we struggled into work still half drunk to slash the prices to half. We ducked into the stock room to knock back a shot of Christmas pudding flavoured brandy and shove a handful of leftover cake into our growling stomachs, knowing that we had to sell Christmas half price, to people who were onto the next thing and didn't care for our ornaments anymore. To say it was demoralising is an understatement indeed.
As each year passed and Christmas rolled round again I found myself both dreading and yet, unaccountably drawn into the merry-go-round of gifting and gorging as helplessly as a leaf in a stream. That is, until a couple of years ago when I was struck down with flu - not the elegant sniffly kind, but real bone wrenching, gasping, constitution breaking flu. Christmas was canceled, guests turned away and the holiday passed in a haze of comforting broth and the sound of Fin and Nick making lego starships. It was blissful.
This year I don't need the flu to help me realise what I treasure about Christmas and how I can prevent myself being dragged into the undertow of consumerism. I know that what matters is to have my very dearest around me, to spend time with them, hanging out, playing games, snuggled on the sofa and flying kites in the cold blue sky of December. It won't be any better if I spend hours in the kitchen crafting something that will leave us prostrate on the sofa, sleeping off the calories. It won't be any better if I open lots of shiny new things, when I have everything I actually need already. It certainly won't be any better if I kill a tree merely to bring it into my house and dress it up in finery - like a child dresses a cat for fun - so I can watch it die slowly in my living room.
This year I will cut up some paper for origami, dust off the board games and playing cards, rent some great movies and put a piece of local, organic Dexter beef in the oven, to melt slowly into a perfect, succulent accompaniment for some lovingly prepared vegetables. I plan to gather Nick and Fin into the kitchen and hand them knives and chopping boards so that we can all partake in the making of the meal. I don't want any presents - of course Fin will have a few - although if anyone would like to give something as a gesture I urge them to give to charity and send me a card so that I can share that warm glow of giving something meaningful and useful, where it really is needed.
I truly am looking forward to Christmas this year, safe in the knowledge that I can relax and hibernate with my loved ones - filling the winter stillness with mirth and festivity, not hurry and fluster.
The rubbish men needn't worry about my house this year, it will be business as usual.