HOME FOR CHRIST
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
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.