“Ya’ve finished ya Christmas shopping then, aye?” my coworker asks my legs one day in the kitchen, where she spies them jutting out from underneath the workbench as I reach to grab a sack of flour from the back. The question reaches me there as if it comes from miles away and I pause in my rummaging; the deliberation over whether or not to tell a bare-faced lie or suffer the highly predictable consequences brings me to a momentary standstill.
Because the answer is yes, pretty much. For Christmas this year, I bought myself a trip to Reykjavik in March, because we all deserve nice things sometimes. I bought myself a new backpack after my old one had suffered an unfortunate accident in the store room. I’ll probably buy myself some new wheels when I resume working five days a week and have enough time to get down to the cycle shop, but only because my current bike is no longer happy to carry me where I want or need to go. And that, there, is the true extent of my Christmas shopping.
But I know what she means and, because it’s Christmas (and also because the idea of pretending to give a damn for the remaining duration of the month fills me with dread), I choose honesty. “I’m not really getting anything for anyone,” I say, dragging out the flour just in time to see her eyebrows hit her hairline. She tilts her head to the side and smiles confusedly, politely, but says nothing, so I fill the silence with assurances that I am also expecting nothing. But she’s already clocked me for the sort of person I am, and I shrug my shoulders and turn back to my cake.
I’ve worked in service since I was eighteen years old, and each year, my December disappears in a flurry of customer complaints, five pence reusable bags, cups of coffee, baked goods, and checkout belts stacked to the ceiling with Quality Street selection boxes. Each year, I take about four days off in all of December, one of them being Christmas itself, and I rake in an incomprehensible amount of dollar. And each year, I bear witness to the sudden, deliberate, and utterly predictable dumbing down of humanity, wherein I watch people willingly risk their sanity to traverse overcrowded shopping centres and start throwing punches at one another over bags of sprouts.
And listen, try as I may, I just can’t bring myself to be about that life. Sprouts aren’t even fucking nice.
I imagine that it’ll be unsurprising to discover that I’ve been defending myself against accusations of scroogery for years, but honestly, I do get it. Gingerbread lattes are pretty good, Love Actually makes me cry, it’s good when it snows, and it is kinda nice to kick back and gorge yourself on roast potatoes and Buck’s Fizz with relations you haven’t seen in a great long while. And you know, it’s really nice to give something to someone, but I just can’t shake the feeling that the sense of obligation (or else, the expectation of receiving something in return) that defines Christmas these days sort of cancels out the altruism. It doesn’t matter what the advertisements say, you just can’t buy your way into goodwill. Or peace on Earth, for that matter.
So let me say it again for the kids in the back, I’m not opposed to the Christmas spirit — to handing out thermal socks to the homeless, to opening your home up to strangers who have no one to eat with, to sitting through the three-hour introductory credits of Ben Hur, to biting your tongue over your great-aunt’s accidental racism. These are time-honoured traditions and, culturally, they’re important. It’s jus too damn bad that these things are being shit on by a hyped-up consumerism that dictates that Christmas now starts in September and drives people to violence and assault over vegetables.
The brutal hilarity of it all is that, come January, I’ll wake up to a day off. My customers will wake up to a house free of decorations, where the evidence of all the pointless tatt they splurged out on will no longer be tucked away underneath the tree, but rather inside the closest of their loved ones; out of sight, out of mind. And we’ll be much kinder to one another.
Something tells me it shouldn’t be that way.
So let me buy you something nice in April. Let me treat you on your birthday. Let’s make a boss-ass meal the next time I see you. But let’s not do any of that on Christmas, because what a waste of sentiment that’d be.