Being mostly about eating. Because we all know that’s the real meaning of Christmas.
Ignore peer pressure, tradition, and all built-in expectations.
People get into habits. We’re that kind of creature. All creatures are that kind of creature. It’s a creature thing. You don’t need to be a creature. Not all the time, anyway.
Is there something you do every Christmas? Do you actually enjoy it? No, really? If you’re just doing it because it’s what you always do, give that some thought. Maybe there’s a better way of spending your time and money and you’re not seeing it because you can’t get past the big fat habitual elephant in the hideously decorated room. About those decorations… no, okay, maybe later.
Do your friends insist on you going out to a Christmas party, dinner, carol singing, turkey wrestling fuck-knows-what bit of standard nonsense? Maybe that’s because they enjoy it, maybe it’s because it’s what they’ve always done, or maybe it’s because their friends asked them and they didn’t want to be rude and say no. If you don’t actually enjoy it, say no. Sure, you should try not to be rude, but hey, if they get pushy they started it right?
You’re not in a Disney movie.
Families don’t always get on. They don’t always enjoy each other’s company, or like each other’s taste in partners. Or table manners. If your Aunty Maureen’s open-mouthed chewing makes you want to heave, that’s not going to go away just because it’s Christmas. If you really can’t un-invite Aunty Maureen, at least manage your expectations. Don’t think you will suddenly be unfazed by the sight of semi-masticated turkey rotating before you. Or make a seating plan that puts her opposite dotty Uncle Fred with the cataracts. Or invest in a tarp.
Just, don’t expect it all to be like a Marks and Spencer’s seasonal advertisement; you won’t suddenly look good in a reindeer sweater, and your one bedroom flat isn’t going to sprout a fireplace overnight.
Christmas doesn’t belong everywhere.
There are some places Christmas just doesn’t need to go. When you’re unpacking that battered cardboard box that spends eleven months of the year on the top shelf of the stationery cupboard, pause for a moment. You work in a square box of an office with a bunch of people you barely see outside business hours, in a building that’s a monument to the 1970s slab-sided assault on the fine profession of architectural design. There are green streaks running down the facade, the air-conditioning unit in the canteen is dripping rancid fat into an alleyway, and the woman at the corner desk smells faintly of cheese and macramés toilet-roll covers as a hobby. Twenty feet of semi-bald tinsel and a cardboard tree is not going to change any of that any time soon. And when you come back to work in January, you’re going to have to take it all down again. Probably on your own, since the cheese woman never helps and the guy at the next desk isn’t speaking to you after you stuck your tongue down his throat at the Christmas party. Is it worth it?
If you really insist on a works do…
So, there isn’t any way out of your work’s Christmas dinner without offending your boss and blighting your career prospects for the next ten years. You’re sure of that, right? If you’ve any sense at all, you’ve spent the last twelve months developing a cover story that now has your entire work place convinced you’re a Kosher vegan with ceoliac disease, IBS, an allergy to fennel, sawdust and lima beans (you can never be too careful) and a severe phobia for beards. If that’s still not enough to get you off the guest list, try to have some input into venues.
Do not, under any circumstance, agree to go to the big, flashy, flag-ship big-name hotel and restaurant that everybody else in your office will be itching to try. The celebrity chef will be zed-list at best, and will be in Barcelona with family that week, so your over-priced canteen food will be prepared by his inexperienced sous-chef and an army of seasonally-employed, never worked in catering before, pot washers and packet openers. Seventy percent of it will be produced in a factory and delivered in a chiller truck to the back door, where it will sit quietly thawing for a few hours before being refrozen prior to your arrival. The usually tasteful restaurant will be… reserved for real guests who are staying in the hotel, and your meal will be served in annex where paper tablecloths try and fail to hide the fact that your dining experience is being hosted on a trestle. Alongside twelve other trestles. All hosting copious numbers of accountants and council workers wearing shiny clothes.
Do not go to the big, flashy, flag-ship big-name hotel. If you must go, do not order anything that you cannot positively identify in poor light. Do not order soup, stew, anything with sauce, pudding, pies or custard. Try for a salad. They can’t freeze that.
If you really, really need to go out for a Christmas meal.
Go to the pub. Go to your favourite pub. Go with real friends. Have food you’ve had before, that you know they cook well. Have a drink. Drink what you usually drink. With friends you usually drink with. Have fun. Wear normal clothes. Talk about things that interest you all. You’ll know what that is because you’re out with your real friends. If your work-mates are your real friends too, hurrah! You can invite them too. But not the cheese woman, she’s weird.