It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Hurrah! I ADORE Christmas and everything about it. I love getting drunk on hot spicy beverages. I love the cheek-warming fug of central heating and scratchy manmade fibre-d Christmas jumpers. I love all those terrible, dated Christmas songs, tinny and muffled with horribly-ageing lyrics. It was a ‘different time’ apparently, just TURN IT UP AND PRETEND IT’S FINE! Fingers in ears! FA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA.
I love Billy Mack and Buddy the Elf and Bob Cratchet Kermit – come in from the cold boys, it’s good to have you back!
I love the sound of a choir echoing out across a busy train station and sing-a-long Christmas carol concerts. I love wreaths on doors and towering London Christmas trees that twinkle in every cobbled square. I love being reunited with my treasured Christmas decorations every year, unearthing them from their boxes where they’ve been tucked up, snug and sparkling, smelling faintly of lofts.
I love trying to arrange a Christmas drink with every single person I’ve ever met. I love ramshackle gingerbread houses and ever-shrinking tins of foil-wrapped chocolates and weighty slabs of dusty white stollen.
I get misty eyed over people doing good-deeds to counter the commercial hum and excess; M&S biscuit selections pulled out of backpacks and handed awkwardly to the Big Issue seller outside the office. Cardboard collection boxes overflowing with donations for the food bank and strangers checking in on their elderly neighbours. I love the ‘keep the change’ and ‘it’s on me’ and ‘why not, it’s Christmas’ of it all.
I love squabbling families and Christmas Eve drinks with old friends in the local pub, and waking up on Christmas morning in a familiar but unfamiliar bed that’s not quite home any more even though it will always be home if that’s where they live.
I love shit, shopping centre nativity displays and tinpot Christmas markets filled with tat. And I love people getting ripped off by ‘Lapland experiences’ that inevitably turn out to be nothing more than a muddy field containing one lonely donkey wearing reindeer antlers.
I love every little excellent and awful thing about the festive season.
AND I LOVE LOVE LOVE A MAGAZINE CHRISTMAS GIFT GUIDE.
God I love them.
Every single one. I love the Guardian’s over-engineered and over-complicated one with its moving parts and endless categories. I love the Telegraph’s ludicrously ostentatious one, with its diamond jewellery and gadgets worth more than my actual car. I even love the flimsy advertorials from Boots that have been compiled with no love at all. Just a photographic version of a stock check filled with tarted up body sprays and nose hair trimmers.
I’m drawn to the person I think they’ll make me. Because the person I want to be, most of all, is someone who buys exceptional gifts – someone generous and thoughtful with excellent taste. Magazine Christmas gift lists promise this, they’re like a subtle metaphor for capitalism itself in that they promise to turn you into whoever it is you want to be, if you have the money to exchange for it.
While I want to be someone excellent at gifts, I am also paralysed by indecision a lot of the time. Even if I find something I think is perfect I simply cannot commit until the last second by which point it’s often sold-out or I’ve missed the delivery window.
Christmas present shopping for me becomes a huge burden of stress. I want desperately to find the perfect thing for each person – I want it for them, I want it for me and I want it for us – because a present speaks about all of those things. And yet because, I am so desperate for it, it becomes one of those impossible tasks, the pressure builds up and I slam the door on it to keep out the noise.
Christmas shopping in London is an uphill struggle, fighting your way down Oxford Street through forests of slow-moving tourists, selfie sticks curving like boughs into a canopy overhead. Bundled up warm, you head out onto the street and then melt like a snowman when you push open the door to a shop and a blast of artificially heated air breathes down at you. It’s running to catch the tube and getting your shopping bag wedged as the doors bleep and you sail away leaving your advent calendar cast adrift on the platform. It’s, “excuse me…. excuse me… can I just squeeze past you there” and “oh sorry, no after you” and “surely THAT’S not the end of the queue!” It’s feet worn to the bone and aching backs and an exhausting and overwhelming number of choices.
Gift guides are none of those things. Gift guides are a glass of chilled champagne at the counter in Nigella Lawson’s fairy-lit kitchen as she hands you a warmed mince pie and in her honey-soaked voice suggests gorgeous heartfelt tokens for your loved ones.
I’m drawn to the apparent ease of them – as if I will scan the gift guide and pluck out my Christmas shopping from the selection presented, effortless, like taking a canapé from an outstretched tray.
But I cannot be alone in wondering… is anyone actually buying ANYTHING from them?
At a first glance, Christmas gift guides seem like a perfect list of perfect presents. Luxury face serums and soft leather bags, cashmere socks and traditional wooden spinning tops. All things that would look excellent wrapped in brown paper and tied with a ribbon and placed under a tastefully tacky Christmas tree. And yet while I gobble up every gift guide I can get my mitts on, when it comes to adding things to my basket, it just doesn’t happen.
I cannot claim to be an expert gift-buyer, but my husband definitely is. He has, on multiple occasions, brought me to tears with his gifts, so thoughtful and generous and carefully chosen.
The thing about Christmas gift guides is that no matter how perfect they look from the offset, they cannot possibly lead to an excellent gift, because they miss the point of gifts entirely.
The best gifts I’ve ever received, haven’t necessarily been the most expensive, the most tasteful, or the most refined.
They’re the ones that make me recall a great memory shared with the person. They’re something I never knew I wanted but now cannot live without. They’re things that even if the person doesn’t share my taste, has perfectly understood mine. They’re things where people have spent their time, rather than their money, carefully curating something for me. They’re things, a lot of the time, that if money were no object, would still top the list.
The best gifts, are the ones where people tell you, through effort, care and creativity that they love you, that they understand who you are, and that you are worth making an effort for. And I think perhaps, of the many reasons I love Christmas, that’s my favourite thing of all.