Why Christmas In London Sucks

Photo by Luca Rossato via Flickr. Creative Commons

Photo by Luca Rossato via Flickr Creative Commons

Chris Lockie hates Christmas. It’s not some contrarian position, but a deeply-held conviction based on a considerable number of gripes with the festive season — and he’s not alone, as he explains: 

Every year I spend my Christmas in Eltham, with a usually splendid family who seem to entirely lose their minds at the merest whiff of turkey. What follows is a marathon day of drink, food, presents and good cheer that misanthropes like me simply can’t stomach. The TV remains firmly off all day because that would get in the way of Now That’s What I Call Genuine Xmas Agony on repeat. Rod Stewart has another Christmas album out? Oh good.

It takes a while for Christmas to kick in; you know it’s incoming when the usual tales emerge of fag-toting elves swearing drunkenly at this year’s horrifying ‘Christmas experience’ debacle in places that always seem to be somewhere near Milton Keynes. It finally hits you whenever you first hear this atrocity on an advert.

This is the time of year when freedom of speech is curtailed by millions of grinning simpletons who will not have a bad word said about Christmas by grumps and grouches who just won’t get into ‘the spirit’ of the thing.

London will become a paradise for the type of people who actually pay to see Dick Whittington and his Cat at the Lyric in Hammersmith. There will be many, many Christmas-themed pop-ups attempting to part you from Grandma’s tenner, and somehow they will be embraced, rather than chased out of Shoreditch and Balham in a hail of orange and cinnamon mince pies.

It surprises no-one to discover I am one of those miserable bastards who greets Boxing Day with the type of relief that can only be provided by 11 months of Christmas-free existence, or a trip to Mr Happy’s Thai Massage on Brewer Street. Relief seems a long, long way away as I imagine taking a slow trudge through a peaceful, snow-covered Hyde Park only to almost lose an eye to some pillock in the real Winter Wonderland shooting an air rifle at a coconut wearing a Santa hat.

Everything has to wear hats at Christmas. Every year I go through the never-gets-tired routine of ‘accidentally’ ripping my paper hat as it comes out of the cracker. Are you the person I saw walking a Jack Russell in a Santa hat down the Kilburn High Road last Friday? I shared a glance with the poor beast; I’m not sure I’ve ever felt more at one with nature than as the bedevilled creature beseeched me with his eyes to kick his master up the arse.

Image by Alex King via Flickr, and yes we know that's not a Jack Russell

Image by Alex King via Flickr, and yes we know that’s not a Jack Russell

And yet grumps like me really should count our blessings. For many people winter is not all mistletoe and wine. Thousands of people die of a lack of heating as the nights draw in — if you allow yourself 20 minutes to sip a nice cup of steaming mulled wine, during that time three people will have died across the country from the cold, according to Age UK. Over 10 winters from 2002/03 to 2011/12, there were more than 1,000 excess winter deaths in nine of the London boroughs.

It can’t have escaped your attention that the Mayor’s pledge to end homelessness has gone tits up and yet at this time of year, the ‘time of giving’, people seem far more intent on handing over their loose change to the poverty stricken Mr Marks and Mr Spencer rather than a shivering man outside Old Street tube.

Christmas itself is a source of considerable tension among many families — it’s not always the festive jumpers and dad passed out in his favourite chair we’re led to believe it is. A recent article in the Independent highlighted that 48% of men feel depressed during December, with 45% saying it’s worst around Christmas time. Is it possible that Christmas isn’t the annual answer to all our prayers? Not that anyone actually prays around Christmas time these days — that’d just be weird — though of course a nice carol or two can’t hurt.

And of course it’s the same carols every year — a few stuffy old God-bothering ones but mostly Wizzard, Slade, Nat King Cole, and Cliff. When the opening bars of Wham’s outrage begin I imagine myself slapping {REDACTED} with a {REDACTED} then slowly {REDACTED} with a turkey spit. If only Christmas music was allowed a little variety, we might not even need songs like this:

“Oh be quiet Grinch, get into the spirit,” I hear you mutter. Getting repeatedly poked up the jacksie by a roll of wrapping paper up the giant escalator at Angel does not induce ‘the spirit’ I’m afraid. And believe me, there will be wrapping paper, because ‘giving’ has now simply become ‘spending’. Get used to quotes like this: “Witnesses described shoppers behaving like ‘animals’ at a branch [of Tesco] in Edmonton, north London.” Or take a trip to Asda in Wembley and experience ‘the spirit’ yourself:

The odd thing is: I love winter. Snow is merry and beautiful, the planet’s way of saying: “I know you’re destroying me, but I forgive you”. Heading to the tube before it’s light of a winter morning feels almost clandestine, and therefore fun. The other day I walked along the nondescript Gunterstone Road in West Kensington at about 5pm, in darkness and freezing cold rain with nobody about, and felt somehow completely in tune with London.

But Christmas itself is a recurring nightmare, in an almost literal sense: it’s terrifying in its banality, in the promise of excitement and fun broken into a million smashed fairy lights by being the same year after year after year after year after year after year and if you’re wondering when this sentence will stop you’re experiencing my life at about 2pm on 25 December.

Still, at least there’s New Year’s Eve to look forward to, and London’s spectacular free firework display. Sydney is widely regarded as putting on one of the best global displays of fireworks each December, and despite the Australian economy currently circling the bowl, it manages to resist the urge to charge people for the right to stand in a public space and look upwards. The glorious legacy of Boris Johnson spelled out in a thousand Catherine Wheels will read: “HAPPY NEW YEAR, SPONSORED BY HSBC”.

So here’s the festive season, back again, measuring mortality by annually reducing the finite number of Brussels sprouts left to be eaten before we die. But consider this: London is a city of so much variety, things to do day and night from Hillingdon to Havering, Barnet to Bromley, that there’s no point putting so much time and effort into one single day of sheer inconsequence. The rest of the country is rubbish, so let them have Christmas; bothering with it at all here seems utterly perverse when London is like Christmas every day.

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18 December 2014 | 10:00 am – Source: londonist.com


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