Saturday, December 23, 2006

Surviving the Run-up to Christmas [Part I]

Well, my kids were actually well behaved, and we survived the neighbour's party with no blood on the carpet (although there was spillage of red lemonade - although the carpet was already so old and worn that you would hardly notice the difference, but I still feel guilty about it ).

So, here I am with two days to go until Christmas. My inestimable wife has done miracles on the Christmas shopping front (in addition to making presents!), while I have actually got all my shopping done (God bless the Internet). With a manic last couple of months at work keeping me busy and away from home for upwards of twelve hours a day and leaving my like a zombie when I get home, my dear wife laid low by late stage pregnancy, two small hyperactive and mischievous midgets and bronchitis, it is a small miracle that we have got this far alive.

My next struggle is to to do the present run to my sister and cousin in Southampton. With the fog and likely traffic chaos, that does not look to be great fun. To be honest, I could do without going, but we have reached a compromise, and the kids will stay at home with my wife, and I'll go on my own - traffic and weather permitting.

I case you missed it, most of the British Isles has been under a very, very heavy blanket of fog for pretty much all of the last four days, throwing airports, road and public transport into even greater chaos than usual. Oh, and the drivers one of the main train companies are threatening strike action. Christmas would not be Christmas in Britain without travel chaos - it is what we do best.

Needless to say, this is one of the major reasons we never, ever go away for Christmas - that and two travel sick midgets, and the stress of organising going away. And that we have family and friends on our doorstep, so "going away" just means a ten minute walk round the corner, or a five minute drive. Only the Southampton present run has entered the Christmas calendar as a long distance event.

Now don't get me wrong. I love my sister and get on with my cousin and her family pretty well, but the thought of hauling arse all the way across the south of England and back in one day to exchange Christmas presents a few days before the festivities is not my idea of a fun excursion, with most of the rest of the Southeasts' 23 million souls trying to do the same on an already overstretched and overcrowded transport infrastructure.

But unless we keep up these little, ritual points of contact, the bonds that hold families (and friends) together begin to weaken. People take offense, or just forget about us, and next year, we are likely to get left off the list of cards and invitations (not necessarily maliciously). And so it goes.

Everyone moans about Christmas, the commercialization, the hassle ,etc. But we all still do it, every single year. Why? Because it is a basic human instinct - we need these little present giving rituals to keep us knitted to one another. Christmas has many meanings, but one of them, however stressful and annoying at one level, is keeping far flung families and groups of friends who have drifted apart geographically from drifting apart socially. We go through all this hassle because, at the end of the day, just letting someone know you have thought about them and care about them, and giving them the opportunity to do the same, actually means more than all the aggro that goes with organising all of this.

We are odd creatures. But at least that is one reason why Christmas persists, even as Western Culture at least has largely forgotten the spiritual narrative that underlies it. But that is for another day, and for other, more vehement blogs of those on the frontline of the Culture Wars, a conflict I see little point in fighting (at lest not the way it is usually fought).

If I survive today's excursion, I will be back again to explore surviving other sides of the run up to Christmas in my family.

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