I’m not keen on Christmas. It’s a festival that leaves me cold – like Dickens’ Scrooge, or Dr Seuss’ festivity-spoiling Grinch – and not only because it occurs in bleak midwinter. A poverty-stricken childhood, where the stress of trying to live up to five children’s consumer fantasies was written across my mother’s face for months before the big day and, as we matured, a large incendiary family, has meant that few Christmases have passed without insult or incident. The rare exceptions to the rule have been in adulthood, where, on a handful of occasions, rather than hosting or visiting family, I managed to escape the country altogether.
Now, with kids of my own, I’m worried those rare bolts to festivity-free frolicking are firmly in the past. But what days they were. My best friend, Natalie, moved to Antigua in the late 1980s, and for three years running, I squandered my entire annual holiday allowance over December. Reunited on that golden-beached Caribbean idyll, we drank rum punch, danced through the night and flirted with entirely unsuitable Italians for four fun-filled decadent weeks. The closest we came to a traditional Christmas was exchanging joke presents on the 25th, purchased with much sniggering on the tinsel-drenched streets of tiny St John’s, as Soca-style carols blared from giant sound systems. We went for a Boxing Day sail, shucking oysters, and by the time I returned in January, I was brown, replete and ready to face the last furlong of winter.
Rather than managing to pass on my passion for a sun-kissed Christmas – and aversion to dry turkey and sticky Baileys, non-shedding trees and buckets of bad chocolate – I’ve created fanatics who’ve barely stopped enjoying one Yuletide before they’re eagerly anticipating the next. Taking after their father, also a Christmas-aholic, the rules as laid down by my children are simple. We enter a lockdown period with a week to go: no one escapes the perimeter of our property until ghastly lights have been strung across the garden, turning it into a flickering eyesore of nodding Rudolphs and fairylights, a huge tree is erected and decorated, baking begins, and tinsel is draped from every available corner so the house looks like the aftermath of a burglary on a ‘holiday season’ Disney set. No wonder I want to escape.
The only question is, how long do I have to wait to convince the rest of my family? My husband is actually the worst offender. His reason for staying put? He worries Santa Claus might not find us otherwise! So, to all of you happy holidaymakers, eschewing the lights on Oxford Street and Selfridges’ window display, dodging the maniacal cooking, daunting dishwashing and rowing relatives by escaping to more exotic climes, spare a thought for this poor parent, handcuffed to the Magimix until I’m frogmarched to midnight mass!
Mariella Frostrup is the presenter of Open Book on Radio 4