Last year’s Christmas plans were a distinctly murky affair, with the nation unsure where the government would land on a lockdown Christmas. A last-minute acknowledgment that “yeah, you probably shouldn’t be traveling to see other people” saw the government engage in a characteristically half-arsed attempt to stop people from traversing the country to see their friends and family.
Well, it is that time of year again; Christmas 2021 is rapidly approaching. It remains unclear whether we will have a government-sanctioned sick note to skip out on the family get-together this year, but, on the chance we don’t, thousands of us will be working out where we will be going and who we will be seeing this Christmas. Plans as to who will be hosting will be outlined, while family battle-lines are drawn, and crossed, and drawn again (Sorry, Great-Aunt Ethel, but I won’t be attending Christmas at your house this year – there is only so much sawdust-like nut roast I can bring myself to consume in one lifetime).
Christmas day is the ultimate culmination of family beef, all conducted over a dry turkey while a drunk uncle fills in the role of the gammon. This family meat-up is the basis for many a drunken debate over the exact rules of charades – once the amnesty of the gift-giving has passed, no one is safe from the family politics. We had a reprieve last year, but there are no guarantees for what this year will bring. So, in the name of surviving this Christmas and seeing in the new year, I present to you: A Hermit’s Guide to Family Christmas.
Presence is Presents
The stage is set, you have been unable to weasel your way out of the family Christmas shenanigans and the inevitable stress of planning the gathering has begun. It is at this stage that the most important rule must be applied: under absolutely no circumstances should you be the one to host the family Christmas. The host is under the most pressure to provide everyone with a good time and to keep the peace, both of which will take up an inordinate amount of time and mental capacity. The smart among you will have purposefully moved into small flats with tiny ovens – these features immediately discount you from hosting and preparing food. If required to prepare some sort of sustenance to contribute to the ‘festivities’ my suggestion would be an incredibly strong cocktail.
Once all of the initial preparation has happened, hopefully with as little effort from you as possible, your thoughts should be turning to the actual stuff you need to put an effort into. Present buying is an art that some have mastered, and some have not. Apparently, buying your sister tickets to a cooking class after telling her that she shouldn’t be allowed to help prepare any food for Christmas is considered rude. Who would have known?
Suffice to say, the art of present buying mainly consists of tact and thoughtfulness – something for which there is no formula, other than to maybe listen to what people are saying to you about their interests and hobbies. I’ve heard that some people start buying Christmas presents before December, but I suspect that they’re about as real as Father Christmas’s elves. An amusing fallback is always the “my presence in your present” line – but the viability of that really depends on how much Christmas cheer you’re able to bring with you (in this circumstance, the incredibly strong cocktail mentioned earlier is a big help).
There are two options to be weighed up when deciding your travel plans. Do you drive and give yourself the freedom to leave as and when you please or do you find a willing family member to give you a lift (or rely on dodgy Christmas time public transport), allowing you to drink? This is a serious question and not one that can be answered for you. A great deal of thought should be put into this question – make sure your priorities are straight. If you have opted for bringing the cocktail, you should probably stay and drink. Depending on how nice the cocktail actually is.
The Big Day
Once the family gathering is underway, the first step is to assess the lie of the land. A large part of the decision-making here depends on the current state of affairs within your family. Important factors include:
Are there any couples likely to have an argument?
Are there any family members below the age of 16?
How well do you get on with your siblings?
What are the levels of bigotry within the older members of your family?
Take these into account when you settle in for the day. The optimum setup is finding a sibling that you particularly get on with, commandeering a crate of beer and locating a quiet corner to chill out in until the dinner is ready.
Once the dinner is ready, everyone will tell their painful cracker jokes, whoever cooked will sullenly complain that no one appreciates the amount of work they’ve put in and grandad will get a bit racist prior to the Queen’s address. The game plan here is to get your head down and –
There are an odd number of pigs-in-blankets. The game plan, right now, is to make sure you get that extra pig-in-blanket. The only other person aware of this fact is your dad: the race is on. The winner of this race is the winner of Christmas. On your marks, get set, GO.
– The game plan, once the pork-based battle is over, is to get your head down, make sure you have enough gravy on your plate to make your peas float, and enjoy what is, actually, quite a pleasant meal. Good job, sis, looks like those cooking classes really paid off. No, please don’t throw that sprout at me, I was trying to be nice.
What follows is potentially a controversial point, so for that, I apologise. But I stand by it. The best place to be following the consumption of Christmas dinner is washing up. After the big meal, the peace and quiet of the kitchen while washing up is needed to brace you for what is to come.
The board games. No one knows why this still happens, year in, year out, but the board game followed by the massive argument has become a tradition now. Ideally, everyone is in enough of a food coma to be relaxed and jovial, but someone will always take it too far – just try to not let that person be you (again). Struggle through this bit or go for a tactical three-hour nap, the choice is yours.
We should all meet more often!
After the day of heavy food, heavy drinking, and heavy heads clashing together, everyone will go their separate ways with the lie “we should do this again soon!” springing, unintentionally, through gritted teeth. Another Christmas, another year, another argument about Charades. At least in under a week, it will be a new year, and we can pretend that everyone had a lovely time.
Of course, lots of people do love Christmas. It’s just hard to remember what Christmas was like pre-lockdown – and maybe it looked a bit like this. I wouldn’t know, I had an incredibly strong cocktail at the last family gathering. I called it: ‘The Grinch.’
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