I know I’ve been complaining a lot about Christmas in recent weeks, but so would you if you’d spent many, many days staring at the business end of a turkey.
But now that’s all behind me for another year. No more travelling with a feathered passenger, no more explaining how to best remove giblets, no more being asked endless questions about stuffing…
See, I’m complaining again! But what you have to understand is that I actually quite like Christmas. Please don’t think me a Scrooge just because I like to give off buckets (Oh, that’s a bad choice of words – I still have flashbacks!). If you know anything about people from Northern Ireland, you’ll know that we love a good moan but we don’t quite mean it. Our bark, as they say, is worse than our bite.
So I do indeed like Christmas. To me it has always been about coming home. Whether I was travelling home from university or, in more recent times, my place in London, I have always associated the last few days before the festive period with packing up and jetting back to the town where I was born and raised.
A few days ago I sat waiting for a ferry. It had been a long and interminably dull journey and it wasn’t over yet. I was tired and fed up and gasping for a coffee. But with nowhere to go and nothing to do but wait, I calmed myself, and starting reflecting on this time of year. I came to the conclusion that the reason I am in danger of hating Christmas is that to me it is very nearly all about work. It is just another way of making money. Am I really different from all the high street stores bunged to the rafters with panicked customers grasping for last minute gifts and stocking fillers. That, I have come to realise, shouldn’t be what Christmas is all about.
I do worry that I will lose the joy I had when I was a child – the twinkly, cosy wonder of Christmas. I know I will sound very un-James when I say this, how I might descend into the gloopy, syrupy schmaltz of badly-written greetings cards, but there will never be anything quite like my memories of excitedly leaping out of bed, ripping open presents and frolicking in the snow in a scarf and bobble hat.
Well, okay, I should say that I might have invented that last one. We rarely get enough snow in Northern Ireland to make a snowball, let alone a heavy enough fall in which to frolic. But the important thing is that Christmas is so tied up with memories. And good memories at that – you erase the family arguments and burnt vegetables and disappointing gifts.
Which got me thinking about food. As usual, you might say, but do bear with me. Like many other people in the food trade, I know that one of the reasons we love food is because it is so tied up with our memories. Every time you eat a risotto you recall the time you first tried it on holiday. You immediately remember every little detail of that meal: the chink of glass, the salty taste of parmesan, the warmth of the breeze as early evening casually slipped into early night.
And it’s the same with Christmas. As I sat in the lonely, freezing ferry terminal, feeling a little sad as the rain turned from a gentle mizzle into an unmerciful downpour, I thought about Christmas food. Even just thinking about it sparked off an avalanche of special memories: the smells of cinnamon, cranberry and sage; the sound of carols and the Queen’s speech; the taste of turkey (yes, turkey), flaming pudding and a Christmas portion of whiskey.
As I sat in the lonely, freezing ferry terminal, my backside turning numb in the moulded plastic seat, my legs twitching as I grew increasingly bored, I realised just how much I do indeed like Christmas. Call it a revelation. A re-conversion, perhaps.
Whatever it was, I couldn’t wait to get home.
And now I am. Hope yours has been as lovely as mine.