Then Christmas itself would begin for me on 23 December with some Christmas shopping in central London. A department store would normally take care of a present for mum, a book store for dad. That night, I’d wrap these presents, get an early-ish night, heading off for Cambridge the next morning to line up for Carols at Kings. I’d read magazines and books in the queue. After the service at four-ish, I’d drive to the West Country to my parents. Church, drinks, lunch, conversation, television, chocolates, bed. It was essentially done and dusted within 48 hours. Christmas was, by and large, something that happened to other people.
But of course back then I was a single man, living in London. It’s all different now. Resisting Christmas is like shouting at the tide rolling in. I’m married, a father of two girls living in the West Country. This has made life far more complicated – except in the realm of presents, of course, which has now been officially outsourced to my wife who has special skills in this area. And, contrary to stereotype, I am Chief Present Wrapper.
A few years ago, my wife was always keen to get the tree up and get on with Christmas. I tried to resist. Whenever I tried to get Christmassy in advance, it would go wrong. I made a stollen cake once. With the breadmaker. It went well until I covered it in butter before drenching it with icing sugar. Except I’d used the butter the night before and cut it with a very garlicky knife. And this transferred to the stollen. This was typical, I felt. You try and get Christmassy and it goes wrong.
But I was still thinking in single-man mode. I’d been thinking that Christmas is just a day that can’t possibly live up to the hype. So best play it down in the build-up. Since then I realised that Christmas is not a day. It’s a season. We don’t prepare for Christmas. Our preparations are part of Christmas. This changed everything.
Christmas begins on 1 December. That’s when our tree went up this year (a trusty John Lewis fake one – the best £85 I’ve ever spent on anything Christmas related). We went to a Christmas fair and stood in the rain in a nearby town as a British Olympian turned on some Christmas lights. And, of course, we’ve started on the Advent calendar. It’s a moment with the kids every day for the best part of a month when we can reflect on an aspect of the amazing story of the incarnation – before eating some chocolate. And it does me as much good as them. This morning we found a camel – which took the wise men to Jesus. After all, it doesn’t matter how clever, wise or sophisticated you are, you still need go to Jesus. This was me as a single man. Busy, over-educated and working hard. The truth is I needed more than 48 hours to digest the wonder of God’s kindness to us in sending his son into the world.
Having children makes Christmas more complicated and inconvenient, but that’s okay. Leaving the splendour of heaven to be born on straw in a stable wasn’t exactly convenient. And that’s why I say we should not aim for survival at Christmas. We need to surrender to the festive season. And so I raise my mulled wine to the festive season. And cut another slice of garlic stollen.
James Cary’s book, Death by Civilisation is available to buy now.