Christmas comes but once a year. How very convenient and, what a relief. It being the tenth of December and everything, my thoughts began to drift to the annual frightfest or Saturnalia which we in the West have henceforth decided that Xmas, or the Winter Holiday should become. Not before? Well, actually, no. I was only reminded of it all because an American friend had sent me one of those rather jolly e-Christmas cards.
I’m glad I live in France. It tends to lay off the carols-and-mince-pies type of bonhomie that you can’t avoid in the UK from mid-October onwards, instead relying on vast expenditures of electrical energy to light up the Champs-Elysées and the fizzy animated displays in les grands magasins. When the bill comes in January they’ll realize that it could comfortably have paid for the overthrow of a small dictatorship. Caveat dictator, as they say in Damascus.
Young friends have moved into a new house and as part of the nesting ritual, have installed a Christmas tree, which in spite of my default position, a curmudgeonly ‘bah-humbug’ attitude to the introduction of foliage into habitable areas, did send a small, but nevertheless distinctly warm fuzzy down my overworked spinal column.
It also spoke to me about taking ownership over our celebrations and how, subconsciously or not, we seek emotional refuge, a familiar huddling in the repetitious but comforting application of ritual. For many, their Christmas is incomplete without an annual visit to a church, cold and awe-inspiring, incense and pomp being their infrequent and rather sterile dose of religion. For others, younger perhaps, waking in the foetal position with drool on their chin at five in the morning, clutching an empty champagne bottle and almost no memory of how they happen to have arrived on some stranger’s living room floor defines their festive season.
I sometimes forget that Gipsy (or, as we should now call her, “mère BB”) is descended from generations of Mediterranean peasantry, for whom the supermarket is a modern but somewhat unnecessary luxury. In common with previous years, this weekend has hosted its own little slice of ritual. A pig, freshly slaughtered, is bought and over the weekend, friends join together to dismember the animal, render its fat and turn virtually all of it into edible produce, from blood sausage to filet mignon. As no more than a battlefield observer, I came across a boiled skull, complete with omnivorous dentition, lying abandoned. The trestles are piled high with vast quantities of meat which will be pulled from freezers in mid-July. Sausages and pâtés are ground, herbed and spiced.
The event has been happening for a number of years now, and has hardened into a winter tradition, like mistletoe or even eggnog, for which a separate place in the Inferno surely exists. If one’s transatlantic feathers are ruffled, look away now because this witches’ brew would not be out of place in a Harry Potter novel. Apparently it’s also known as milk punch and is a rich, chilled, sweet beverage traditionally made with cream, sugar, whipped eggs for the froth with the addition of whisky, cognac, rum or bourbon. I can barely write down the ingredients without an overmastering urge to disgorge the contents of my stomach on to the floor. Some, however, seem to absolutely love the stuff – the Yuletide atmosphere being sadly two-dimensional without it. Their alimentary systems are clearly more robust than my own, it would seem.
And then, there are Children. No. I’m not dipping even a toe into the murkily competitive sport of comparative present-buying. This can be saved until Donald Trump becomes President and we’re all in a race to look better and spend more on hair products and dental care. Meanwhile, eggnog or not, my hope for you is that your personal Santa is svelte enough to negotiate your own chimney without getting stuck, and you all get what you deserve this Christmas. Those insufficiently nauseated might like to listen to Jimmy Grafton’s original. The grandchildren could play it on an endless loop.