Friday, 23 December 2011

The Third Great Trial of Christmas: Friends & Family

Here’s my third and final moan about all the nice things about Christmas in an attempt to ruin the festive season for all.

The problem with Christmas is in a sense the whole point of it; you have to spend it with family and friends. Admittedly a Christmas spent on your own would be about as much fun as spending the festive season in the Fritzel’s basement, but at least there wouldn’t be the rows, awkwardness and general problems always associated with interacting with other people which are compounded during the holiday season.

Now before you get deeply offended early on in the post (there’ll be plenty of time for that later), I want to say I love my friends and family – as much as my bitter and twisted cold heart will allow for anyway. But the problem is everyone has a different vision of what Christmas should be, from the full on Victorian traditional feast with the million friends and family around sharing well-thought gifts and cards over the ultimate meal, to a quiet one with only your closest, to avoiding every relative at all cost, like they were street based charity workers. If everyone had a same standard idea of what Christmas should be, at least we’d all know the bench mark.

Christmas Cards seem like such a simple idea, a brief message to say Merry Christmas in a card posted to a loved one. But nowadays do you bother? And if you do bother, who do you leave on or off the Christmas card list? It’s a bit like a dry run for organising your wedding (were that ever to be likely – in my case I think this would be wasted practice), admittedly with smaller ramifications but still... if you send a card to one friend why aren’t you sending a card to all your friends. It may seem like a small thing, but generally most friends don’t like to find out that they’ve been segregated into a sub-friendship group within the rest of your friends, it’s not considered polite. Cards sent around the office are even more problematic, as there’s a lot more of an obvious opportunity to compare who received a card and who didn’t, in a small office you can probably manage everyone but in a large office the line has to be drawn somewhere unless you want to spend December operating like a 17th century printing press. And then of course there’s the awkward moment when you receive a card from someone who you haven’t sent a card to, uh-oh potential festive disaster (unless you don’t give a toss!), especially if it’s now past the last posting date for Christmas, or you’ve run out of cards in your festive box consisting of 24 cards consisting of 4 designs – I mean I probably should send them a card, but it’s not worth rushing out to buy a new box.

If you think card giving for friends is tricky, consider how this problem is magnified within the realm of present buying. Whilst your said friend may not be that concerned if they’ve missed out on a well thought, but essentially cheap card, they may when actual cash value presents are taken into account start to get a bit miffed. But say a special friend has done something nice for you this year and so you want to thank them for it. Well do you need to buy every mutual friend, that you and the original friend share, gifts as well for fear of offending them? And then where does it stop? Sufficient extension of this logic results in the nightmare scenario where you end up having to get every person you’ve ever met a gift and that can be expensive, even for the socially retarded. The potential for absolute awkwardness for me doesn’t end there, because what if you receive a present from someone you haven’t actually got a return present for? Are they expecting something back? Will they be offended if you haven’t got them anything? Are you supposed to rush out and get them something at the last possible moment?

In some ways worse than this can be the potential for gift mismatch, this is where you’ve both bought each other gifts but one person has way out spent the other. If you receive a luxury designer watch costing around £300, and in return you’ve got them a chocolate Santa and a soap in the shape of a reindeer, you can feel a little uncomfortable. Even worse because you’ve got them something, you can’t play the “sorry I haven’t had a chance to get you a present yet” card.

Still at least with friends you can shop in nice shops, after all they’re likely to have similar interests and be a similar age to you. Whereas this luxury is not often afforded with family members, in the case of friends you can shop in nice clothes shops or look for fun music and DVDs. However involve family members and you’ll be soon trawling through shops you feel about as comfortable at as a South Korean who is accidentally stumbled into Kim Jong-il’s funeral service. Before you know it’ll you’ll be groping your way blindly through places you’d never normally go cross-stitch shops, Fishing Accessory World and worst Edinburgh Wool Mill.

The family gift buying trauma is also compounded by the fact that as you know family better you know what they’ll do with your gift – more to the point if you buy them tat you know they are going to put it in the bin. You can pretend your friend will keep that awful Wall-mounted Singing Mackerel you found in the junk shop, your mother will not and you know it. You’re going to have to get something thoughtful. Worse still my parents make rules on what I can and cannot buy them – no clothes as no room in the wardrobe, no toiletries as they never get used, no food as they’re on a diet, and nothing that will take up any space as the house is full of junk. I mean what can you get them, a gift-wrapped skip for them to empty the spare room into?! Then you ask them what they would like and they reply “I don’t really know” – well if they don’t really know, what chance do I have. Instead I end up plodding up and down the high street so much the shop assistant in Boots thinks I’m stalking her just for her clubcard points.

To make matters worse, 10 years ago I foolishly suggested that wouldn’t it make a nice change to use Make Your Own Crackers – these are crackers where you buy them unassembled and purchase your own gift to place inside. An ideal way to avoid the usual awful crap they put in crackers, which they might as well send straight to landfill now and save us all wasting 2 seconds of our life doing it. Anyway at the time the cracker idea seemed like a good one, but now it’s been adopted as a family tradition this means having to hunt down another set of family presents obeying all the above rules but being small enough to fit within the inside of a cracker. Why did I ever suggest such a disastrous idea in the first place? Now a decade later I’m wandering through stores with a tape measure trying to see if gifts will fit in a cracker, desperately resisting the urge to form the bloody thing into a noose and end it all there.

The other problem with family, bar the rows and having to spend time with them – things I’ll gloss over because surprisingly I actually get on with my family and so have nothing to add on this subject (An optimistic note?! Who’d have thought, well it is Christmas). Any how, the other problem with family is that they have a bizarre set of traditions that they insist you adhere to, being sent out to buy two jars of pickled onions and a Christmas table cloth on Christmas Eve because “otherwise Christmas will be ruined” I feel may be taking festive preparations a little too far. In fact let’s sod the whole thing and have fish fingers and chips?! What do you reckon? Who could be unhappy with that?

And with that my last blog of 2011 is drawn to a close, thank you very much reading and commenting. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about the collapse of my life!! I’ll be blogging again in January so look out for that, in the meantime have an amazing Christmas and a brilliant New Year. I’ll be spending the break relaxing and attempting to find a partner to end my miserable single life and make next year’s blog a whole lot cheery. And although Christmas may be a time of miracles, this plan still seems rather unlikely doesn’t it? Until 2012 bye bye!