Turkey, cock­erel or a roast beef sand­wich? A twin­kling tree, a twee Na­tiv­ity sta­ble or a pu­ri­tan­i­cal aban­don­ment of all tra­di­tions? How we do Christ­mas speaks vol­umes about who we are. Here four writ­ers re­veal their time-hon­oured rit­u­als

London Evening Standard (West End Final B) - ES Magazine - - Talk Of The Town - Il­lus­tra­tions by Ben Kirch­ner

Most Christ­mases I spend in the warm bo­som of the Dent clan in Carlisle. For non-ge­og­ra­phy fans, Carlisle is as far north as one can go in Eng­land be­fore skid­ding on black ice and fall­ing into Scot­land. I’ll get off the train, hop­ing for some sort of red-car­pet treat­ment from my par­ents and brother David that be­fits the Lon­don me­dia dar­ling I am and, as usual, be left wait­ing in driz­zle for 20 min­utes while ev­ery­one eats Qual­ity Street and bick­ers about who for­got me. Even­tu­ally, squeezed be­tween a child seat and a 20lb bag of Maris Piper spuds, I’ll be asked point­edly whether I plan to comb my hair, and whether I’ve yet been asked to be on that BBC One Satur­day night show with Joe Swash where you wear a sil­ver cat­suit and try to jump through a wall and get knocked into a swim­ming pool, and I’ll grump, ‘I don’t want to be on Hole in the Wall,’ and my fam­ily will look irked and lose in­ter­est again.

I may well ar­rive on ‘Black Eye Fri­day’, so named by Carlisle po­lice as this is when yule­tide rev­ellers take to the streets in Santa hats, get tipsy, and take ex­cep­tion to each other’s po­si­tion in the taxi queue. ‘Twenty-two ar­rests on Black Eye Fri­day,’ the news­pa­per head­lines will say and we’ll all feign dis­gust but be se­cretly glee­ful. To my credit I’ve never had a black eye but in the 1990s I did once ar­rive at the Christ­mas din­ner ta­ble with a glar­ing lovebite on my neck from a boy called Tony who’d been ap­pre­hended on Christ­mas Day shin­ning down the drain­pipe from my bed­room. ‘I have seen Santa,’ my mother sighed with lips so tight she could hardly man­age a Tof­fee Penny. ‘He was wear­ing a Stone Is­land jacket.’

Nowa­days I don’t leave the house much over Christ­mas. I ar­rive full of strong in­ten­tions to get out and breathe some fresh, win­try, Cum­brian air and not re­vert to my teenage self, de­spite be­ing sur­rounded by the trig­ger points. But within two hours I’ll have had a small melt­down due to a lack of 3G, the patchy Wi-Fi and my par­ents’ ten­dency to watch rolling Sky News. The Alexan­der Wang pen­cil skirt and Rigby & Peller re­stric­tive bra will be re­placed with loose-fit­ting leisurewear in flammable fab­rics and I’ll lie on the sofa main­lin­ing Mal­ibu and pineap­ple and hunks of marzi­pan Stollen, point­lessly tick­ing things in the Ra­dio Times I’ll never get to watch as Cornwall With Caro­line Quentin is on ITV1.

My dad will be pre­oc­cu­pied with the turkey al­most con­tin­u­ally from the 22nd un­til it’s served on the 25th. He will re­fer to it as ‘the bird’ and will wan­der the house mum­bling that the fridge isn’t big enough so it’s been stored in a shed, wor­ry­ing that it’s be­ing eaten by a fox, fret­ting it won’t go in the oven and then

claim­ing to have been up at 3am to cook it. It al­ways seems a shame when we do fi­nally eat it as they ap­pear to have be­come friends.

My fam­ily make me laugh more than any peo­ple I know. My brother es­pe­cially makes me laugh un­til I’m ill. We’ll spend day af­ter day over Christ­mas tak­ing the mickey out of each other, re­play­ing old sto­ries that have been told 345 times be­fore, gos­sip­ing about who­ever has left the room, and ly­ing about, sleep­ing off food, so that the house looks like one gi­ant anaes­thetic re­cov­ery room. I might claim to be mis­un­der­stood by them, but in ac­tual fact they know me too bloody well.

My hap­pi­est times are prep­ping moun­tains of veg in the kitchen with my dad while lis­ten­ing to the lo­cal ra­dio. We both love ‘Stop the Cavalry’ by Jona Lewie. ‘Ere I love this one, presh, turn it up,’ he’ll say. ‘Yeah, I know you do,’ I’ll say and whack it up and we’ll do the ‘Perum-a-pum-pums’ to­gether while I put crosses in the sprouts. That, for me, is Christ­mas.

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