The Irish Mail on Sunday - TV Week - - CONTENTS -

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

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