I don’t like Christmas. I know I’m not alone in that. For the providers in the family, it’s a pressure – all that required generosity, demanded all at once.
I don’t like bulk present buying.
I don’t like big family-only gatherings and frenzied unwrapping in a communal whirl - nor, if the other route is taken, individually, on the domestic catwalk.
I don’t like eating too much in one go.
Also, I am not a ‘roast meat’ cook. I haven’t really got the timing, the resting, or the lukewarm thing. The bird is always lukewarm by the time it has reached everyone’s plate.
Fortunately, my seasonal bad humour has seeped through the family, somewhat. My daughter prefers to travel now – in spite of being a party animal, and loving presents. My eldest son is a vegan and a physicist. He is also anti-consumerist, takes his objections to the extreme, and disappears at Christmas. His views extend to birthdays too, “What does it all mean, this marking of time? What is time?”
For the last few years, I have persuaded my family to go away and ignore it all - the cost of travel being our present to ourselves. But Christmas appears in the unlikeliest of places - for example, last year, on the Skeleton Coast of Northern Namibia. There, in the most remote and beautiful place on earth, gaudy Christmas stockings appeared, swinging on the wrists of waiters, as they danced around our table, singing carols in five-part harmonies. There have been other such surreal pop-ups. At least they are tacky enough to be funny.
So what is happening this year? Why am I already making shopping lists and ordering the tree? And why have I been to Ikea to buy tableware in bulk?
I haven’t managed to indoctrinate my youngest yet. Nor my husband, who is naturally generous and warm, who loves gatherings and people and celebrations, and expresses uncomplicated joy at seeing his family – and is unafraid of marking time. He also doesn’t cook, so none of that really bothers him. His advice is to keep it simple, but that’s unhelpful; Christmas brings a crowd, so it’s never going to be.
Anyway, those two want Christmas.
Which means we're doing the hosting this year.
So how am I going to make this painless? Enjoyable, even?
I will not make turkey (nor goose or duck).
I will mix friends in with family
And we will host off-peak, the 23rd - and lower expectations, or at least alter them.
We will not sit down to eat.
The menu will be chosen for being a one-pot dish, easily assembled and slow-cooked; a dish that can maintain flavour, texture, attractiveness, for diners who will come and go over a couple of hours.
Tagine, I’m thinking - one fish, and one meat. I’ll make harissa and charmoula, and maybe some flatbread. Then, marinated oranges and chocolate sticky toffee pudding. That has a little Christmas spirit, somehow - the prunes with the mutton, the preserved lemons with the fish, the cardamom in the oranges and the dates in the pudding - dried fruit and spices, and warmth.
And I will give myself two days clear, to make everything.
It will be a very early supper, so we’re not clearing up all night.
Christmas and its Eve will be free. We shall watch films, go for walks and enjoy the unusual silence of the city. And bask in the lights, and the scent of the Christmas tree. I do love the tree. And I love the carol In The Bleak Midwinter; so beautiful.
Yes, there is one more thing. On The Day itself we will have a barbecue in the garden, just our little family - because that is a good Christmas memory from years ago. Us huddled in the garden, wearing fleeces, and cooking up a carnivorous feast - plus some roasted veg for the vegan-child!