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.