Monday, January 13, 2014

Should we move Christmas?

Last Tuesday I celebrated Christmas with my family. 

A fortnight late, I know, though not according to my Serbian builder. Zoric (his real name is Velibor, but everyone calls him by his surname) observed his Christmas on Tuesday as well. In Serbia they use the Julian calendar, so his celebrations are always two weeks late, a bit like his building work. 

While Zoric was supposed to be chopping down an oak branch and spreading straw on the floor of his house (a Serbian tradition I doubt he transposes to his flat in Tottenham) I was a few miles away in the Groucho Club, surrounded by children, presents and bemused celebrities.

As I’d been in America since the beginning of December, this was the only time we could all meet in the same city before one son went back to boarding school, another went off filming in Slovakia and my daughter returned to Uganda to run her arts charity. It’s sad how families split and go their separate ways, though I’m immensely proud of the impact they’re already making around the world. 

In the restaurant, when the waiter arrived for our drinks order, I was fully expecting to fork out for our customary bottle of Christmas champagne. 

“No wine, thanks, we’re on Janopause,” said my son and his wife in unison, making no attempt to hide their smugness. 

Not them as well. Apparently 25% of all Brits are having a dry January. In our jetlagged delirium on New Year’s Day Jo and I decided to do the same. Yes, we too are trying to be dryathletes (another of the absurd names people are giving this annual practice of denial). 

I confess we haven’t been entirely successful. The problem with January is that it’s such a miserable month. It’s cold, wet and dark: what else is there to do but cheer ourselves up with a little tipple? 

I’m aware that giving up alcohol for a month does has huge benefits. After just 48 hours of abstinence I felt clearheaded, slept better and snored less (though Jo denies this). I instantly lost weight and my liver heaved a huge sigh of relief. I’ve lost 5 pounds since New Year (which is scarcely a dent in the mass I’d added in December). 

Why do I find it so hard to get through the month if I feel so good? Because I’ve stopped smiling. Without a small glass of red wine in the evening, January is tough. 

What makes it particularly difficult is that, in our household, this is the month of our film festival. We invite our lovely neighbours in to help us plough through the pile of DVDs I have to view for my BAFTA voting. We light the fire, heat up the lasagne, turn up the surround sound and enjoy a glass of Chianti while enjoying the best that Hollywood can offer. 

If the movie’s really good, we’ll pour a second glass. Or, if it’s really bad, a third. It’s a great January tradition. 

One charity has helpfully posted an online calculator to encourage us all. I typed in 21 units a week (this assumed a lot of really bad films), and apparently, if I’d stuck to the programme, by February I would have saved 30,314 calories and £385. That’s a real incentive. 

I only wish I could take a leaf out of Zoric’s book and find a religion that celebrates Christmas later in the year. Preferably in mid-April, a warm short month, so the extravagance of present giving could be followed quickly by payday and then a sober but sunny May. 

After all, there’s no biblical reason why we celebrate Christmas in December. Shepherds around Bethlehem wouldn’t have been tending their flocks in mid-winter – they’d all be safely tucked up in nice warm barns. There’d certainly have been no room in the stable. 

In this new Church, Easter would fall in early Autumn, so Lent would always be a doddle – who wants to eat a lot in August anyway? As a result, all the congregation would be thinner and richer. 

Now who wants to be Pope?

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