Six ways to make your Christmas more like one in a film



1. Be a bad parent!

Not a terrible parent, obviously – don’t go forgetting to feed them or buying them Robin Thicke CDs. But to capture the particular breed of magic favoured by the mid-90s festive oeuvre, you need to practice a bit of low-level neglect. Work too hard, fail to turn up to their nativity play because you’re doing a Big Presentation to the Big Boss for a Big Contract, then shout, “I AM TOO BUSY” down the phone when they call to tell you a Robin Redbreast has just eaten marzipan from their outstretched palm.

And then, THEN, have a heartwarming epiphany and spent Christmas Eve in a madcap adventure finding the perfect toy/travelling halfway across the country in a series of unsuitable vehicles/actually being Father Christmas for the night, thus bringing the family together again and earning your kid’s love and admiration forever. This bit really is quite key. If you only do the first part, you’re just ruining Christmas on purpose.

2. Have an almost implausible disaster!

Continuing on the bad parent theme, you could leave an eight-year-old at home and fly to France by accident. Or your Christmas lights could cause a power cut across the whole city. Or a grotesque creature from a rhyming world could try to steal Christmas. Or you could leave the same eight-year-old (now nine) at home again and fly to Florida by accident.

Whichever you choose, be sure to fix it by midnight on Christmas Eve or it’ll be stuck like that all year.

3. Have some eggnog!

I’ll leave you to make your best guess as to what eggnog might actually be. Or just make a glass of Bird’s custard and put some rum in it.

4. Do a dance!

This is an especially prudent one if you’re a) the Prime Minister, b) a cartoon skeleton or c) Lindsay Lohan.

5. Go to a department store!

If you can get accidentally locked in, sleep in the bedding section and do a montage running riot in the toy department, all the better.

6. Become a better person!

You could sit round waiting for ghosts to turn up and lead you by the hand through the shadowy reincarnations of your past misdoings – or you could speed things up by doing the modern equivalent: flicking though your Facebook albums.

Once you feel suitably repentant, make a big donation to charity and buy lunch for someone who really needs it. Then dance through the snow in a nightshirt while the end credits roll.

MERRY CHRISTMAS xxx

What do we want? Christmas! When do we want it? Earlier!



For something that has been happening with pretty dependable regularity every year since at least 1988 (and for a fair while before that, I’ve heard), Christmas doesn’t half sneak up on you.

I’m two days late getting my advent calendar, have only bought three presents so far and I don’t know where my novelty antlers are. I feel like Prime Minister Hugh Grant in Love Actually when he has to fight off America and go to every house in Wandsworth trying to win back Martine McCutcheon.

The mistake we make every year, of course, is to start doing Christmas too late. Whingers the world over will tell you it’s the opposite, that everything comes too early and costs too much and smells too good and oh isn’t it awful, but they are wrong.

If anything, we don’t let it come early enough. They have conditioned us to ignore Christmas until it lands square in our laps like a needy cat, mewing and shedding and demanding attention*.

Then we don’t have time and space to savour the season as it deserves. We just take a deep breath and launch ourselves through each festive hoorah, gathering pace, being loaded up with items like a pack mule, gift receipts and Lindor wrappers crunching underfoot, until we eventually fling them all off in a frantic Buckaroo manoeuvre and land on the sofa, December 27th, face-down in a trifle.

Wouldn’t it be better if instead, we revved up Christmas on about November 6th, free from judgement or mutterings? As the last firework fades in the sky, we could give Noddy Holder a megaphone to kick off proceedings and take it gently from there.

Then there would be plenty of time for lots of nice sitting around, in between all the ice skating and queuing and singing and travelling and wrapping and cooking and high-kicking with Weird Brian from HR. I honestly believe it would be more sensible, like warming up our festive muscles with some light stretching before the marathon.

For example, I found out today that the average person in the UK eats 27 mince pies every Christmas. TWENTY SEVEN. Stuffed with a clammy fist into the space of three short weeks, that’s probably enough greasy pastry to make your insides go see-though like a paper bakery bag. But distributed across a much longer period – six weeks, let’s say – it becomes just another healthy way to achieve your recommended butter and sugar intake!

As I’ve already missed this year’s early deadline, it’ll have to wait till Christmas 2014 - or extend the whole thing to the third week of January. Either way I’ll be dealing with the needy cat of Christmas the way that works best with all cats: putting a silly hat on it.

*I don’t have a cat, can you tell?

In which we'll have a blue Christmas, and love it

The Bravo family has a broken boiler.

They're soldiering bravely on, according to reports, with portable fan heaters and hot water bottles strapped in strategic places about their persons, but as things-to-happen-a-week-before-Christmas go, it's a fairly bleak one. "You might want to bring your slanket home with you," my Mother has advised, prompting mental images of us all shuffling softly round the house in our fleecy shrouds, like the multicoloured ghosts of Christmas past.

Having existed in a state of almost permanent shiver myself since mid-October (how long does it take to shake off the student notion that warmth is a luxury we can't afford, while organic goat's cheese is a basic right?), I should have been upset by the news. And I was, a bit. Nobody likes to think of their nearest and dearest awaking each morning nervous to see if their drippy nose has grown stalactites during the night. I don't want them having to fill baths with a kettle then all get in together to save water. Because, well, that would be weird.
But part of me, secretly, and please don't tell my parents this if you bump into them on the Morrisons parsnip run, is quite excited. What fabulous comedy material this will make! We'll have hilarious Christmas anecdotes coming out of our EARS! And we were due a refresh, what with The Great Giblet Disaster of '94 wearing slightly thin, having been trotted out every year since it happened.

Everybody loves a Christmas disaster, don't they? One of those moderately vexing but not life-altering incidents that gives everyone a chance to pull together, battle through, keep calm, carry on etc, and forever after remember it as being at least 40 per cent more humorous than it actually was. You'll look back in decades to come through sherry-tinted specs, and say, "Remember that Christmas the dog ate the trifle and sicked up over Aunt Maud's holiday slides? And Uncle Terry threatened to sue? REMEMBER? Those were the days." 

So far as a family, we've not had our fair dosage of potentially hilarious festive catastrophes. I mean, the hamster died on Christmas Eve one year, and Brother #2 went into hospital with pneumonia on Boxing Day another, but neither of those incidents were exactly high on LOLs. A broken boiler, however, has the makings of a proper 'remember the time?' story, so I'm determined to stay chipper.

We will all wear five jumpers like a family of festive Michelin men, and play highly energetic charades to keep our pulse rate up. We can take it in turns to put our underwear in the microwave for toasty-bottomed comfort. When frost forms on the insides of the windows, we'll write our names in it. Such larks! Indeed, if I arrive home tomorrow night to discover that they've fixed the ruddy boiler, I think I'll be faintly disappointed.

In which I'm bringing tacky back


On Sunday we had our annual faux-Christmas extravaganza in my flat. As usual, we bought our combined bodyweight in meat and trimmings, did a posh breakfast, put our friendships on the line with a round of aggressive parlour games, and fell asleep in front of the telly.

To kick off the festivities, I buy a tub of cheesy footballs. Christmas had begun! I proudly open them and set about the traditional method of biting off the wafer case in two complete pieces, leaving the cheesy centre to savour like a precious truffle. Everybody else gags in horror.

"They're revolting!" one declares. "They smell like cardboard," says another. "They taste like feet," a third. 

"But… but… they're Christmas! Cheesy footballs ARE Christmas!" I protest to a roomful of blank faces. Until this point I don't believe I'd ever paused to consider how cheesy footballs tasted, or whether it even mattered. They were novel, they were bite-sized, and they were as synonymous with my Christmases as the bumper Radio Times or fill-in-the-blanks thank you letters.

The problem isn't that I enjoy synthetic cheese-filled wafer snacks while my peers do not. It's that the cheesy footballs, I feel, symbolise a wider issue - the glorious naffness, or lack thereof, in the average modern Christmas.

When did it all get so tasteful? At some point during the 23 years I've been alive, good taste has crept into the tinsel pile and turned Christmas from a riotous assault of glitter and gaudiness into a refined affair, full of artisan produce and wooden decorations from Muji. I'm not excusing myself - I banished tinsel from the Bravo tree years ago, with such vigour that the law has been upheld even after I left home. Meanwhile my office is bedecked in geometric paper lanterns, the sort that say, 'hip young media agency' rather than 'SQUEE it's Christmas! Pass the cooking sherry'.  It's all just a bit… safe.


Maybe it's because, as a food writer, I spend the three months before Christmas in a mental fug, with organic stuffings and three-bird roasts and expensive bakeware and pine-infused sugar dancing round my head like cartoon tweety birds. Then when the big day arrives, I want nothing more than an Iceland king prawn ring and a tin of Quality Street to plunge my face into.

Or maybe, after a lifetime of Decembers spent trying to tone down and style up the festive season, I've realised that Christmas should be a holiday from taste.

Despite never having existed during them, I secretly yearn for the Christmases of the '70s. When it was all Advocaat this and Blue Nun that, and a trifle with angelica on top was the height of sophistication. So I'm bringing tacky back. I want my Christmas to wear a massive jumper and a cracker hat, win at charades, and hiccup its way through Mistletoe and Wine without irony. I want flashing reindeer earrings and musical ties. I want those plastic trays of differently shaped salty snacks and tiny sets of screwdrivers on every surface.

I WANT CHEESY FOOTBALLS AND I DON'T CARE WHO JUDGES ME.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

In which I get what I want, at least

I am not a reluctant crier. In fact I've often wondered if my tear ducts would be medically classed as overactive. I'll cry at songs; films; broken computers; dropped food; mouth ulcers; elderly couples holding hands in public; lonely-looking animals; memories of other times that I've cried. And adverts. Of course, adverts. Let's play guess-the-inevitable-direction-of-this-article, shall we?

Yes, when I first saw the John Lewis advert this week, I cried. I cried a little bit at my desk, then a little bit more when I described it to my boyfriend later in a Vietnamese restaurant, and then a whole lot more when I played it at home on my laptop, to see if it was as tear-jerking as I remembered.

It's fair to note, though, that the ad could have been a blank screen bearing the words 'BUY OUR STUFF' and I probably still would have cried, because I would be remembering their last ad. You know, the chin-wobbler with the woman in the red dress and Billy Joel's She's Always a Woman playing over the top. Never knowingly out-blubbed, John Lewis has established itself as the Bambi's Dead Mum of the high street.

There is room for cynicism, of course. Saturday's Guardian included a column moaning that The Smiths' Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want, a song about the pain of unrequited love, should never be used to flog us stuff.

It's surprising, granted, that a band who stood for everything anti-consumerism and anti-establishment that Thatcher's 80s Britain inspired, would give the most middle class of department stores permission to hijack their music. But what writer can guarantee all people will react to their songs in the way they intended anyway? Plus, y'know, it's LOVELY.

While there are shops with stuff to flog, they will inevitably try to flog us stuff - if we can at least convince kids that the joy of giving someone a shoddily-wrapped present we've saved up our pocket money to buy outweighs the pleasure of unwrapping four XBoxes, while introducing them to some decent music at the same time, then that's no bad thing.

The cover version itself is a cause for gripe too, coming as it does from the Janet Devlin school of Pick a Good Song and Sing It Slowly in the Voice of a Wood-Nymph. I don't know if you've noticed, but this love of the twee-lady-cover has become the default approach for advertising agencies during the past year. I blame Ellie Goulding.

But the things is, I'm not enough of a Smiths fan to really care. I think it should be admired, frankly, as a piece of ruddy good advertising. When Twinings gave The Calling's Wherever You Will Go the twee-lady treatment, maybe there were hoards of Calling fans on a forum somewhere, furious that a song about beautiful geographic love should be used to flog us tea. But did the rest of us spare them a thought? Did we?

In a Christmas season where the other retailers are dishing up X-Factor finalists, Jamie Oliver and the Boots office girls (you know! The office ladies who get dolled up in the loos!), I think the John Lewis ad is a breath of real, albeit marzipan-scented, emotion. Although that present looks suspiciously like a big tin of Celebrations to me - if I were the John Lewis parents, I wouldn't get too excited.