I’m not doing Christmas this year.
I’m not not doing Christmas in a furious spirit of Scrooge. There are aspects of Christmas that I love, although I’ve always found the day itself rather wearing. (For an introvert, Christmas Day could have been designed by committee to exhaust.) Even now, as I don’t do Christmas, I quite like that it is going on around me, in a faintly distant, benign manner.
The decision was very simple and very obvious. My family are scattered about the place this year, my mother is no longer in the next house but wherever it is that the dead live, my dear stepfather is in Canada. I suddenly thought, about a month ago: everyone is away and I shall not do Christmas. It was as if someone had come along and taken a huge pack off my back and said: you really don’t need to carry that up the Brecon Beacons.
Today, however, as I was in the village doing errands, I ran into the flower shop and bought some eucalyptus. I love the ladies in the flower shop and I wanted to go and say Happy Christmas to them and I suddenly thought that a little extravagance of greenery was just the ticket. That was, after all, part of the original mid-winter festival – the greening of the halls, presumably to cheer everyone up when there were few leaves on few trees and what was left of the grass had turned the colour of lost hope.
I had wondered whether I would get to this stage and feel a little doleful. As the terrible world news blasted out of my wireless this morning I thought there were not many reasons to be cheerful. (‘It’s Christmas-time,’ said one despairing German woman. ‘What kind of people would do this? I don’t understand.’ And there was no answer to that.) But later, as I had things to do and the ordinary demands of ordinary life asserted themselves, as they ruthlessly must, I carried my green armfuls home and felt a curious lift of the spirits.
That was all it took. Two bunches of eucalyptus and some errands run and some physical work in the cold Scottish air and a telephone call to a cheerful voice, and there, somehow, was just enough Christmas spirit. It turns out that I did not need to decorate the entire house or buy stuff or think about expensive food or get in fine wines or watch the special festive programmes about how to be festive or read the slightly dictatorial articles about how to be Christmassy and perfect in that particularly terrifying female way. (I sometimes wonder whether the yuletide stereotypes are ruder to men or women. The ladies are supposed to be domestic slaves, planning the lunch and choosing the ideal presents with their emotional intelligence and marshalling the troops until they collapse in a mess of gin and smeared mascara and broken dreams, whilst the feckless males do their last-minute shopping at the garage and get so pissed up that they are rude to Great-Aunt Edna and eventually become somnolent in front of re-runs of Top Gear. It’s an all-you-can-eat buffet of gender offensiveness.)
An old friend said: ‘What are you going to do on the day itself?’
I sighed with anticipatory pleasure.
‘I am,’ I said, ‘going to ride my red mare and walk the dogs and cook something nice and then settle down in front of all my recordings of past King Georges.’
For those of you who do not follow racing, this does not mean that I am going to watch endless versions of the old King bravely stuttering through public speeches, but runnings of Britain’s second-greatest steeplechase, which was invented in 1937 and named for King George VI. If you love thoroughbreds as I do, the King George is Christmas. Rather wonderfully, it has been lit up in true celebratory spirit by two of the greatest, gaudiest and most beloved racehorses of the last fifty years. Desert Orchid was everybody’s favourite present as he won it four times, and Kauto Star was the unbelievable cracker under the tree as he roared to victory on no fewer than five occasions. It is a race that has truly lived up to its Christmas billing.
So that is my plan. It’s my idea of heaven. It would be many people’s idea of hell. But that is what I love about getting older. One does not have to be the stereotype or conform to the rules or meet the expectations. One can choose. There are so many versions of bliss and one does not denigrate or detract from another. They may exist, in harmony, as individual as snowflakes and as charming.