Merry Christmas to you.
For the first time since this Blog was set up, over four years ago, I am drafting words on a Christmas morning. The children (aged 13 and 15) have opened all their presents. BBC adaptations of Julia Donaldson books have been playing in the background (“Stick Man”, followed by “Zog”) and we still have a few hours before heading out for lunch in a local pub. For the fourth year in a row my wife will not spend eight or more hours cooking. There will be no washing-up. Equally important, we have not had to buy and find room for a goose, turkey crown, ham, Christmas puddings, enough potatoes and vegetables to feed a dozen people, and all the rest of it. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.
We are not alone in this. Most of the people we know are away from home, or are going to a hotel, restaurant or pub to enjoy Christmas lunch. Friends who came to a late lunch on Sunday, to celebrate the first night of Hanukah, are planning to spend today in their pyjamas. They probably won’t even leave the house. Lunch will involve whatever is in the fridge, nothing special. This new approach to the Christmas Day is similar to how many people regard New Year’s Eve these days.
Since the start of this millennium I have noticed that much of the talk leading up to New Year’s Eve has been about not going out, about staying home rather than trying to make a night of it. Listen to the radio on 31 December and you will find that most of the callers are not making a big deal of it. Stay in, watch Jools Holland, have a couple of drinks, that sort of thing. Maybe there are radio stations whose listeners call in to tell the DJs that they’re planning to have it large, as usual, and party till dawn, but I am not tuned in to them.
Before we had children, there were some years when my wife and I started New Year’s Eve in a local pub, but we were always home before midnight. Back then, in the early years of this century, pubs started charging people to get in, and even the most trouble-free places employed bouncers on the door. These were the kind of people who would insist that even people of my age, two decades on from our teenage years, could not be allowed in wearing any form of headgear. So many ways to make a night in a pub uninviting.
I hear that things have changed this year. My son’s godfather tells me that most of the pubs will no longer be charging an entrance fee, because people have stopped going. He is one of the few people I know who has made a go of New Year’s Eve in recent years. Two years ago, he and various members of his family, and his wife’s family, saw in the first hours of 2018 in a pub on the High Road. My son and I were passing by, well before midnight, on the way home from a friend’s party. We called in for a few minutes. It was like something out of the 1980s. The dining area had been turned into a dance-floor, with disco lights, it was too loud to have a conversation, and many of the punters were clearly on the way to getting very drunk. My son and I were home in plenty of time to see in the New Year with my wife and daughter. We watched the fireworks from the London Eye on TV, from the comfort of our living-room. Last year we didn’t leave the house after dark on New Year’s Eve, and this year will probably be the same.
Let’s see. It’s 11am in West London. There’s an Aardman animation on BBC1. We attended the first Mass of Christmas last night, so haven’t had to hurry down to 11 o’clock Mass like we used to. All is calm, all is bright. It’s all rather therapeutic.