What would I like for
Christmas? The answer, in a word, is
nothing. I can’t think of a single sensible,
affordable object of substance that I want or need.
Books are always welcome, of
course. But whenever I say so the
response from my family is always the same. I’m accused of lack of
imagination. “We always buy you
books. Books are boring. There must be something other than books that
you’d like.” Well there isn’t, and even if
I thought about the question for a month, to the exclusion of every other topic,
the answer would remain the same.
What does my beloved M want for
Christmas? The tradition is that I make
discreet enquiries of others before asking her directly. The invariable response is, “Oh, nothing
really.” I persist: “But there must be
something you need, something you’re running short of?” Nope, there’s nothing, or at least nothing
she can think of.
And so it goes, every Christmas,
year after year. Why do we have this absurd
compulsion, each December, to celebrate a holiday based on a religion to which
neither of us subscribes, by buying things that neither of us desire or
need? I don’t know. But it’s irresistible.
Well, I do know, of course, but
let’s not wander into the realms of psychology or even of sociology.
It means that, over the next week
or so, I’ll feel irrationally obliged to trawl through catalogues, or tramp
through department stores packed with equally frazzled-looking people, trying to
find something that might appeal to her – nighties, sweaters, dressing gowns, even
dresses – only to end up deferring helplessly to my daughter. Sara, a sensible woman and an eminently
practical one, will come up with various things that I wouldn’t have thought
of, and put my name on the gift cards That system works much better, because whenever
I buy something off my own bat, it usually goes back. Wrong size, wrong shape, wrong style – you
name it, I’ve got it wrong.
Most years, at some late stage amid
the buying frenzy going on all around me, and still in a state of anxiety, I
slip down to the jewellery store in Esher
High Street and pay way over the odds for some
sort of bangle. All women love bangles,
whether bracelets, brooches or earrings, so I can’t really go wrong. Except that, in my household, delivering such
trinkets has become so utterly predictable that it’s also now regarded as a
mite pathetic, an act of desperation.
Some of you are probably thinking
that what I’m suffering from is an abject failure of imagination – that if I
gave the matter more than the superficial attention I usually apply to the
subject I’d come up with something clever.
Well, I don’t think I’m lacking in imagination at all. I just
think that there has to be a sensible limit to our acquisitive urges,
especially when they’re almost entirely prompted by pervasive and unscrupulous seasonal
As it is, over the years we’ve
accumulated so much ‘stuff’ – much of it acquired as a result of Christmas
sprees – that our house already resembles an antique store downstairs and a
thrift shop upstairs. We spend more and
more time disposing of things through various charitable outlets, but even
that’s getting harder. Charities are
apparently inundated with things they can’t use or can no longer sell. Even books, it seems, are no longer welcome. It’s not that there are no longer families in
need. The problem is not that charities are
wanting for either cash or physical donations but that they lack the means of
storage and distribution. People are
starving and homeless all over the world not because we have nothing to give,
but because we lack the practical means to get it to them.
Parents with children have no such
issues, of course. If they stress out
anyway, at least they have the joy of watching their offspring rip open their
packages on Christmas morning. But elderly,
sensible and relatively affluent folk like us (with no grandchildren to spoil,
yet), ought to resist succumbing to holiday anguish just because the retail
industry says we must.
Don’t misunderstand me. I’ll have fun at home as usual this Christmas
– my wife having customarily declined to go away, my first choice – but dark,
damp, grim January looms as a blessed relief from jolly, festive, frantic