'Nobody is forcing us to replace all our dinner plates with firtree and silver versions with matching tea-towels'

I get it. Christmas is a list-fiesta, the to-do Olympics; stuffing ingredients, Kris Kindle randomisers, turkey suppliers, dates of Christmas parties, sketchy details of that toy the children mentioned they wanted – you know, the one that’s been sold out since last June.

What I’m doing is just the adult version of my son’s masterpiece, constantly adding things to my already bursting list of lists. And somewhere along the way, I too have convinced myself that it is making life So. Much. Easier.

Because ’tis the season to be jolly, after all. And holly. And to ooze peace and goodwill while decking those halls.

But along with the jingle of bells is the jingle of tills, the have-you-everything-done questions, and the stress to stage-manage the perfect holiday. And suddenly, we’ve become victims of Christmas, The Experience. Our first glimpse of the most wonderful time of the year is the snow-capped peaks of home decor rising unapologetically from behind the Halloween witches at the supermarket stands.

It’s now all about overproduced Christmas ads while the leaves still cling to the trees. It has morphed into pillows with polar bears and winter-themed, show-house dining tables in every department store window. If you haven’t bought matching reindeer pyjamas for the entire family by November, are you even celebrating Christmas?

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Visiting Santa now takes a full day and a very heavy wallet, with upselling elves popping out from behind the latest high-definition Santa in his not-so-grotty grotto. You’ll want that photo framed, right?

And here’s the thing: we’ve done this to ourselves. Nobody is marching us into our nearest Dunnes and forcing us to replace all our dinner plates with firtree and silver versions with matching tea-towels. It isn’t actually mandatory to panic-buy LOL dolls in the middle of Smyths, or to exclusively wear glitter-based clothing for the month of December.

Recently, I’ve been haunted by the ghost of Christmas past, the Christmas that was about lighting a candle in the window at home on Christmas Eve.

I’ve started to miss that ten-minute visit to Santa that made our year (and kept things less complicated when it comes to questions from suspicious little minds).

“Nobody is forcing us to replace all our dinner plates with firtree and silver versions with matching tea-towels.”

Even a few years back, Christmas meant finding your favourite chocolate in the tin before anyone else did and stashing them out of sight. It was a collection of mismatched cutlery adorning the pushed- together tables before the cousins arrived.

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It centred around the gaudy-coloured Christmas tree glittering happily in the window, weighted down with papier- mache robins, dog-eared paper cribs and homemade pasta tinsel. It didn’t care that it wasn’t carefully themed in pink and black. It was simply the gift-protector, and the backdrop to memories of giddy children clutching dolls or wobbling on roller-skates. An absorber of the natural loveliness of Christmas (that doesn’t cost the earth).

Nostalgia now has its own commercial worth. TV ads build mass emotional connections rather than relying on crude direct calls to buy. Brands are built on sentiment. Snowmen melt for love, tear-jerking baby animals rally together, and daddies buy plucky daughters drum kits. See, even empowerment can be festive now.

So as I explained gently to my overly optimistic son, maybe it is time to unpeel the lists, pare back the demands we make on ourselves, and stop being the victims of a season that’s been clouded by everything commercial.

Christmas is one cold day at the end of December where you huddle with your people and feast. If you are lucky, you get to watch those faces light up with joy, you spoil and get spoilt.

Mainly, it is a celebration of being together and making memories, and it shouldn’t matter how scrappy that scene may be. There is real freedom in that, and more than a little magic too.

Illustration by Chrissy Curtin. 

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This article originally appeared in the December issue of IMAGE Magazine, on sale now. 


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