Nobody says Happy Christmas anymore in the United States. Instead they’ve cleverly swept up Christmas, Boxing Day, Hanukkah and New Year into a generic and optimistic “Happy Holidays”.
What a misnomer: how could this time of year ever be described as a holiday? The word holds the promise of chestnuts and roaring fires, Santa and smiles; it suggests rejuvenation and reconciliation, the comfort and happy familiarity of close family; it conjures up images of carol singers and giant reindeer and polar bears lit up on neighbours’ homes, the scent of mulled wine and free mince pies in large, welcoming department stores. “Holiday” means grannies will be smiling as giggling children tear open their beautifully wrapped presents and scream with delight at thoughtful wooden toys and hand-knitted jumpers. Holiday is a time without dissent, politics or strife.
They’ve obviously never spent Christmas in our household. This year my wife actually got things incredibly well organised, and did most of the Christmas shopping in October. Despite this, we still managed to spend an entire December week stuck in traffic jams in Newcastle’s absurd “no car” driving lanes, and queuing in even longer lines for department store checkouts, with Izzy screaming for attention and home.
In our final few days of panic-buying, we turned to the internet for help, and consequently spent hours waiting in for courier companies to honour guaranteed next-day delivery, then more hours driving through industrial estates looking for courier company warehouses after their drivers put “sorry you were out” cards through our neighbour’s door.
Fearing a champagne drought, we carefully emptied all the local supermarket’s shelves of its half-price bottles, yet today, New Year’s Day, our wine rack is completely empty, and we still have a houseful of people. I’ve been scrambling hangover-curing eggs at the rate of two-dozen a morning. That’s over 300 broken eggshells since Christmas Eve.
The best thing about American holidays is that they are mercifully short. People work on Christmas Eve, Santa arrives on time, and everyone is safely back in the office by Boxing Day. Our celebrations started on the 21st, my eldest daugher’s birthday (“Just a few close friends, Dad, and I’m sure they’ll all bring sleeping bags”), and we still have a houseful of cousins. For two weeks we haven’t seen our sitting room floor for the piles of wrapping paper, bows and discarded cardboard. Our nice new sofa has been introduced to various vintages of red wine.
We had turkey, brisket (my wife is Jewish, so we celebrate Hanukkah as well as Christmas), roast lamb for 14 and giant stews for 30, and I’ve personally consumed so much chocolate I swear I’ve turned completely spherical. So far no one has ended in casualty, though at 3am on Christmas morning Izzy woke up and announced she was about to be sick. Her prediction proved completely accurate, so, instead of a present-filled stocking, Santa had to bring her clean sheets and pyjamas. Three times.
I can’t wait for Wednesday and the excitement of sending emails from my nice quiet office. So what did you get for Christmas? my team will ask. I will proudly point to my new watch, a perfectly timed gift from my wife. I will tell of a lovely book about Northumbrian gardens, a most thoughtful offering from my Mum. I will mention various useful gadgets for my kitchen and my own garden, without which I can’t imagine how I’ve survived the last few years.
However, I will certainly not refer to the Borat mankini, given to me as a joke by my nieces. They have dared me to wear it next week and send them a photo. Even without the effects of the chocolate I wouldn’t be seen dead in it. For next week this spherical columnist will be on the other side of the world, basking on a sun-kissed beach. I’m taking a holiday to recover from the holidays. And, boy do I need it.
Happy New Year, everyone.