KITCHEN SINK DRAMA
Things I like about Christmas, number 247: the fact that it is suddenly completely acceptable to be plastered by tea time. Oh, I know that it’s not big or clever – and I completely agree that the 12 Pubs of Christmas is as abominable as a snowman – but I can’t help but admire the way that when stressed shoppers encounter infinitely less stressed party people on the streets at this time of year, there is a sort of mutual understanding; a sense that we’re all in this great big carnival together. Trust me: I have been several sheets in a summer breeze at tea time and it just doesn’t have the same sort of goodwill effect on strangers. At Christmas, though, you’re never far from a party.
I know there will be grinches who will bah and humbug about binge drinking and enjoying alcohol responsibly. I have no problem enjoying alcohol responsibly for 11 months of the year (actually, that’s not true at all, but that’s a whole other column), but frankly, these dying days of the year are no time for responsibility. It is not responsible to wear a jumper with a reindeer whose nose really glows. It is not responsible to drink Buck’s Fizz for breakfast, or to consume so much cream and brandy butter you can feel your arteries harden; it is not responsible to put antlers on the dog or to shout republican slogans at the Queen’s message; it is not responsible to race the kids’ new toy cars after they’ve gone to bed.
Simply, Christmas is not a time to be responsible. In spite of what some grown-ups seem to think, Christmas is not just for children; it’s for children and adults who are happy to behave like children, even if it’s only for a few precious days of the year. It’s a time for high jinks, low tricks and shenanigans. In the country, it’s a time for dressing up in straw, paying homage to a small bird and terrorising the neighbours. How responsible is that?
Besides, for most of us, the whole formation drinking thing is stymied somewhat by shopping, wrapping, chopping, cooking, cleaning, entertaining and being broadly upright in order to provide a successful season for other – especially smaller – people. When I was younger, Christmas Eve, for example, was a day roped off for hooking up with old friends in town, flirting with seasonal strangers (and not a Christmas jumper in sight back then, thank God) and never noticing where the time went. If there is a polar opposite of those languid days, then my current incarnation of Christmas Eve is surely it: a day so frantically busy and organised that I don’t have time to unwrap a Rose, let alone sink a rosé.
I used to kiss strangers on Christmas Eve; now I go to Mass, where, while firm handshakes are encouraged, the chances of snogging anyone are remote. It wasn’t ever thus: when I was growing up, Midnight Mass was still at midnight and there actually was still a slim chance of getting off with a member of the congregation. In our local church, the Mass at midnight was abandoned and anyone who was at the last one will know why. It was more of a loud conversation than a Christmas celebration, punctuated by drunk people shouting greetings across the church, and then by loud, shocked cries of “Jaysus!” when the priest announced the death of the former headmaster of the local school. The following morning, opening the church for the first Mass of Christmas Day, the sacristan discovered that the infant Jesus had been taken from the crib and replaced with an unopened bottle of Power’s whiskey. Now in a way, there was somebody who was enjoying themselves responsibly.
Now, Christmas Eve Mass is at six and the smell of boiling ham competes with the intoxicating excitement levels of all the children present. Maybe some people manage a swiftie afterwards, but I suspect that for most of the congregation, it’s straight back to the sprouts and the Sellotape. To be honest, even if at this time of year I occasionally get wistful about the International Bar and missing the last bus home, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Besides, there’ll be time enough for galloping irresponsibility when we can see the white of the turkey carcass. In the meantime, be young, be foolish, be happy – and for one precious week only, act your shoe size, not your age.
I used to kiss strangers on Christmas Eve; now I got to Mass, where the chances
of snogging anyone are remote