I am not North American, a fact made more clear to me at Christmas time than at any other time of year. I am used to small, demure groups of carolers circling the village square Christmas tree, holding lanterns and singing ‘Hark the Herald Angels Sing’ in warbly melody. Then the mulled wine and minced pies get passed around, and everyone says, “Ooh, lovely. Those look lovely, Joyce.” The village Christmas tree is lit with white lights, understatedly. After the mince pies, the merry group will amble back up the hill, past the stone walls, through the field with the sheep huddling.
My experience of Christmas in rural England has turned me into a full-scale Christmas Nazi, as my husband is happy to point out. I will not allow lights on the Christmas tree that are coloured, nor will I allow trinkets or baubles on the tree that are strangely-shaped or involve any kind of glitter. Bows I outlaw entirely. Whenever the kids bring me handmade tree decorations from pre-school, I always say, that’s marvellous, and think no way I’m hanging that on my Christmas Nazi Tree. Advent calendars must contain a maximum of 25 windows, and have some kind of reference to a Christmas scene. Last year Bill chose a ’31 Days of Chocolate’ NHL calendar, and Olive chose what appeared to be 31 Days of Disney Princesses – both of which caused me to have a big sulk in Walmart. Obviously this year I presented no choice whatsoever to the kids on December 1st, and handed them each an advent calendar with an olde worlde scene of Father Christmas, snowy houses and mistletoe. That’s better. As I say to Frank quite often, I know I’m terrible, but I’m also right.
I am trying to build new traditions, however. I really am trying. I took the kids to see Santa arrive on Baker St last year and was managing to keep it together quite well until Santa arrived in the crane of a huge, honking fire truck and everyone suddenly started punching the air and chanting, “SANTA! SANTA! SANTA!” like we were all at an American Football game. My Eurosnobbery kicked right in and I spiralled into a deep-breathing panic attack. Veto.
This year I skipped that rowdy sporting event and tried the Christmas Nativity on Baker St, where I stood in amongst a crowd of people eating hotdogs, while an upbeat Afro-Caribbean band played not carols, and some llamas stood vacuously in a pen. I explained to Bill, when he asked, that the llamas had probably wandered over from South America to Jerusalem to sneak into the shepherds’ flock. I was also more than slightly perturbed by the sight of a real, live, newborn baby in the -10 arctic freeze, flailing on the lap of Mary who looked about 12 and was clearly very uncomfortable holding a child, especially a screaming its head off one. Really? If they were going for authenticity, here’s an idea: maybe forgo the blaring Jamaican music and the hotdogs rather than the fake baby option. “What’s wrong with Jesus, Mummy?” asked Olive, and I told her that probably it was a bit colder, noisier and weirder than he was hoping for. I concurred.
My favourite part of Christmas on Baker was watching my friend Penny’s daughter eat her yellow glowstick. She bit it, then sucked out the liquid, so that her tongue (before it started burning) was like a lurid distress flare in the winter night. I’m happy to make that sight a yearly tradition, especially because, again, nothing says Christmas like neon-yellow chemicals. We Wish You a Merry Christmas, Forgive me my Eurosnobbery, We Wish You a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!