Artillery Row

‘Tis the season to be Zooming?

After months of misery and lockdowns, the prospect of losing Christmas would be disastrous for so many

It’s very hard to sell the English holiday period to people who don’t live here. We very rarely get snow, instead settling for a month of something between drizzle and sleet. We wait all year for exciting food like a tub of Jacob’s Cheeselets and a dry bird. And, over the last few years, we risk the possibility of family breakdown by bringing up thorny political events just as our great aunt has her fourth sherry.

It wouldn’t be Christmas without a few Scrooges

Nevertheless, December is my favourite month. There’s something about preparing for Christmas, or Hannukah or Diwali that puts people in a good mood. People might be shoving trolleys up each other’s backsides in the supermarket, but it’s done with a wink. We spill out of pubs rosy-cheeked with the prospect of finally working up the courage to make a move on the colleague we’ve long had a crush on. Public transport is full of tired but happy parents clutching bags of toys they’ll inevitably be tripping over in a week. And we spend two (or three) days moving from Buck’s Fizz to Irish coffees to the heavy stuff and back again, somehow avoiding a hangover by surviving on trays of pigs in blankets. It’s wonderful.

This year it could well be different – but it wouldn’t be Christmas without a few Scrooges. In a debate on ITV’s Good Morning Britain, TV presenter and former talkRADIO host Jamie East ranted about the “madness” of people who were hoping to have more than six family members round the dinner table on the 25 December. “For the last eight months people have gone through all sorts of horrific pain”, he said, “and you want to give all that up for a roast dinner?”

‘Tis the season to be zooming, and all that

Granted, for most people a central part of the festive fun is stuffing yourself stupid in the middle of the day. But East’s misunderstanding of the yearning for a normal Christmas as simply a selfish desire for burnt potatoes is revealing. His viewpoint is shared by more powerful people than talking heads – Nicola Sturgeon’s public health adviser Jason Leitch told depressed Scots back in October that the idea of a “normal” Christmas was “fiction”. Instead, “people should get their digital Christmas ready”. ‘Tis the season to be zooming, and all that.

Sneering at Christmas as a Rabelaisian release of the masses is nothing new. Condemnation of mass consumption and general merry making in December has long been expressed by members of the great and the good. In 2015 the Guardian rolled out its trusty Christmas miserabilist to warn us that our “festive meal could be more damaging than a long-haul flight”. There was tut-tutting from The Times in 2016 at eggnog-swilling pet owners who carelessly left their drinks out to poison their animals. In 2018 a bunch of vegans in Bristol held a wake for turkeys bound for the Christmas table. In 2019, Extinction Rebellion took a break from pissing off working people to push for a number one in the Christmas charts with a cheery song about the need to act “before we’re all dead”.

After months of misery a measly roast dinner starts to take on transformative powers

Perhaps the nastiest Christmas gripe that has grown in popularity over the years is the “Christmas is the opium of the masses” line peddled by young lefties so radical they support the Labour Party. As an editor at the Independent put it: “Sorry to break it to you, but Christmas – no matter what Hallmark movies and John Lewis ads have led us to believe – is a deeply cruel, elitist institution that needs to end.” Now, I’m all for shutting down elitist institutions, but lecturing mums for letting their kids bankrupt them via the Argos catalogue has more to do with a snobby disdain for working people than it does with revolutionary politics. “Think, for just one moment, what our manic obsession with Christmas does to a person with depression, a person who has been shunned by their family or who has none to speak of”, the Indie Grinch writes.

Christmas is a time when loneliness becomes an issue to tackle – and it’s for this reason that it’s more important than ever this year. After months of misery for people across the country – both economically, psychologically and physically – a measly roast dinner starts to take on transformative powers. This is what the government’s behavioural psychologists or the middle-class lockdowners enjoying their time working from home don’t understand.

For those who break their necks to make a living all year, festive holidays (whatever religion) are an annual opportunity to forget their troubles. It’s not the presents or the plonk that make it, it’s the feeling that at least your crappy job allows you to splash out on a bit of fizz and celebrate with your loved ones.

If the government – and the media – spent less time relying on polls and more time talking to people, they might find out why the prospect of losing Christmas is so disastrous for so many.

Victoria Derbyshire was scolded for admitting she was considering breaking the rule of six to see her elderly relatives at Christmas. I’d wager most families are feeling the same. It’s not because we don’t care if the virus kills all the old dears down our street or threatens to overwhelm the NHS, it’s that after nine months of hell living on reduced wages, or sick pay, or going out dealing with queues of cross mask-wearing shoppers, working people need something to look forward to.

If we’re wishing for Christmas miracles this year, we’d all like an end to this nightmare pandemic. Failing that, a little bit of willingness on behalf of those in power to try to understand what’s important to the average Brit will do. 

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