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On a Personal Note: The Xmas files.

It’s funny how Christmas always creeps up on you when you least expect it. I know, I know, it isn’t here yet, but I’m already panicking about it. This is partly my wife’s fault (of course), as she has spent the past nine months gleefully counting down to the yuletide season. But of course, now the decorations are going up all over the place. In no time at all, houses are going to be festooned in all manner of tasteless kitsch, from life-sized dolls made to look like cat-burglars disguised as Santa Claus to glow-in-the-dark snowmen. ’Tis the season to be jolly, it is proclaimed, and that’s great as far as it goes; but it’s also the season to forget taste and light up your house like Heathrow Airport (presumably to afford Santa a safe landing).

Forgive me if I sound somehow ungracious, but it’s not as if I am about to shake my fist and cry, “Bah! Humbug!” until the middle of January. I just wish we could have the sort of Christmas that the cards show our great-grandparents having. You know, richly but tastefully decorated tree, lots of gifts, a roaring fire, sumptuous food, happy children… Ah yes, what bliss! (As long as the children don’t start fighting, obviously.)

A winter wonderland at 20°C

But I do look forward to a Christmas market, a great German tradition and one which, I think, at least makes an effort to pander to some sort of nostalgia. The smells of gingerbread, roast candied almonds, popcorn and mulled wine; the sight of little booths selling little hand-made trinkets; the sound of people swearing under their breath as that unspeakable song by Slade blares out over the tinny PA system. Great stuff if that’s your idea of a good time.

The really strange thing this year, though, is that the weather is about two or three weeks late. At the moment, we’re getting the sort of weather we normally associate with late October: glorious sunshine and mild temperatures. Even the flowers are confused, and the trees — normally bare by this time of year — are still resplendent in yellow and gold. The effect of all of this is to make Christmas seem even earlier than normal, and in this day and age of crass commercialisation, that’s saying something. It is a rather odd feeling when you’re considering whether you should be naughty and treat yourself to an ice-cream, and then you look up to see a banner advertising the forthcoming Christmas Market.

Christmas is coming, ready or not!

Christmas also has a habit of creeping up on you and catching you by surprise. It’s a mystery to me how it manages this every single year. I mean, I’ve already had 35 Christmases: you’d have thought I might have got the hang of it by now. And yet no matter how well in advance I start preparing for it, it suddenly appears out of nowhere and I end up feverishly wrapping gifts with about an hour to go. Always assuming, of course, that I have remembered to buy them.

And buying gifts is nothing short of a nightmare. It’s not that I have problems parting with my money, but rather that I have absolutely no idea what to buy people. A straw poll I once took among one of my friends confirmed that I am not alone in this. It regularly drives me nuts: I spend about six weeks folornly traipsing through department stores and shopping centres, hoping that something will jump at me and say, “I am the perfect gift!” Nothing ever does, and instead I find myself muttering: “Not her taste. Not her style. Doesn’t suit her. Too expensive. Too cheap. Too tacky.” Ah — how much simpler life was when our parents feigned delight at receiving a tin of tomatoes we won at the school charity tombola. Sometimes I miss being six.

Ah well. At least I have the mulled wine to look forward to. And the fifteen tonnes of sage-and-onion stuffing mix my wife insisted on bringing back from a recent holiday in Britain.

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