And here we are again – another Christmas day almost upon us.
There is a sort of fever (or fervour?) that seems to grip the western nations at this time of year that has no basis in sanity. Everyone goes out buying extravagant and usually unaffordable gifts for their loved ones, often spending the rest of the year paying off the liberally used credit cards. And because? Well, because Christmas, innit! I used to be as guilty as most, caught up in the frenzy of ‘The Season of Goodwill’, paying out money I didn’t have for things that people didn’t need. It’s quite contagious.
And then there’s the food and the drink. Even here in Greece, Where Christmas plays second fiddle to Easter, looking at people’s shopping trolleys in the supermarket the past day or two, you’d think they were preparing for a siege. It’s like a collective madness descends, enveloping all, displacing our normal sense of reasoning and practicality, and sweeping all before it.
These days, I tend to be somewhat curmudgeonly about the whole affair, and find all the false bonhomie rather tiresome. Before I left UK this cynicism was already creeping in, although I would try to disguise it so as not to be impolite. But I heartily disliked all the “Merry Christmas”-ing from people I barely knew, and being expected to join in with their faux jollity. Likewise all the “Happy New Year”-ing. So it’s another year; so what? It probably won’t be much different from the last year, or the year before that, so what’s the big deal?
God, I’m a miserable bastard! Ha! But I’m not really miserable. Honest! I enjoy celebrating when there’s something tangible to celebrate, but Christmas and New Year (ok, maybe not so much New Year) are just over-hyped commercial spend-fests with nothing to really celebrate at all, unless you celebrate Christmas from a purely religious point of view, which is a different kind of celebration altogether. And being mugged by people in the street expecting me to join in with the charade used to quite piss me off.
I suppose it was different when I had young (and not so young) kids. The whole jamboree was for their pleasure; the decorations, the tree, the presents, the goodies. They, of course, loved it all. The excitement would build up for weeks beforehand. I can remember from when I was young what a big event Christmas was for me. The anticipation was almost unbearable. So much so, that the actual day, when it finally rolled around, tended to be a bit of an anticlimax.
But I suppose it’s an excuse for a bit of a knees-up. Get a bit pissed, eat far too much over-rich food, have to endure the bits of the family you spend most of the rest of the year avoiding, that sort of thing.
I was reading an article a couple of days ago, either on the BBC site or the Daily Telegraph, I can’t remember now, about a group of five(?) people who in 1967 as student teachers went travelling in a Land Rover overland to India, and it described how they spent Christmas Day 50 years ago in a desert somewhere in Iran. It caught my interest because it reminded me that that same Christmas Day 50 years ago, I was in Kathmandu, Nepal. It was my first Christmas away from home, and in a country that didn’t celebrate Christmas. I did get a small taste of Christmas though, as I’d made friends with an American guy who was working with the Peace Corps there, and he invited me to a Christmas Eve soirée at their headquarters (just a house, actually), where they had all the decorations up and so on. It was quite an agreeable evening, despite the fact that most of them were very straight, conventional, buttoned-up people, who I didn’t have much in common with. Christmas Day itself, I spent most of the day in Tibetan Joe’s café / restaurant (owned and run by a Tibetan guy called Joe, unsurprisingly), drinking tea, eating snacks, smoking dope and listening to his brand new copy of Sgt Peppers, which was pretty ok too. It was a marked change to my past experiences of Christmas, that’s for sure.
I guess many people of my generation stay in the Christmas loop because although their children have now grown up, their grandchildren keep it alive for them. I’m sure if I lived closer to my grandchildren, I wouldn’t be so ‘Bah! Humbug!’ in my attitude. However, with three of them living in Australia, and the other two in UK, I don’t get to spend Christmas with them. And these days, being married to an Asian woman with a Buddhist upbringing, and thus no real connection to, or experience of Christmas, it all tends to be very low-key.
I do recreate some of the things that traditionally are associated with the day, though, such as making a mid-morning brunch of smoked salmon and champagne, and I’ll be cooking a full roast meal which will be accompanied by a nice wine. Last year I cooked a goose. Christ, what a fucking palaver. If I’d known what I was doing, it would have helped, but I thought it was going to be like cooking a large chicken – piece of piss. But no, it wasn’t like a large chicken. It was much more complicated. I won’t bore you with the details, but it did tax my culinary skills. I managed, though, and it was a great meal. We were eating bloody goose stew for about a month after.
But this year it’s a capon. I know what I’m doing with chicken, which keeps the stress levels down. The only thing which takes a lot of time when I cook a roast is the gravy, which I always make from scratch with onions, rendered down in olive oil until they caramelise, and which forms the basis of the gravy. Then it’s stock, red wine and seasonings to make the sauce. But I usually cook a huge pot of the stuff, and freeze enough in containers for several meals.
So, you see, I’m not entirely Scrooge-like in my approach to the festive season!
Slightly off at a tangent, I read an article today which made me glad of my cultural background:
Col Zulfikar Barfar, head of Tehran’s moral-security force, said the partygoers had been drinking and dancing at the mixed parties.
Drinking and dancing at a mixed party – how utterly, utterly sinful.
Such a shame; I had some good times in Tehran back before the revolution. There were some great bars downtown, and the people were for the most part friendly and fun. And there were a lot of attractive mini-skirted women around, too.
‘The Moral Police’. Has a nice ring to it, eh? Doubtless it’s what Public Health in the west aspires to. They’d love to raid Christmas parties, truncheons drawn, to arrest all those evil drinkers and smokers.
Anyhow, my curmudgeonliness (is that a word?) notwithstanding, I’d like to wish my readers a most enjoyable Christmas, and a happy and prosperous New Year. 2017 has been quite interesting, what with the shenanigans surrounding Trump and Brexit, and I think both those stories have a long way to run yet, so 2018 should prove to be equally entertaining.