When Andrew Turner at JFB asked me to do a Christmas blog post, I knew I was in trouble. Andrew wears Christmas jumpers all year round and I don’t even own one; I don’t send Christmas cards, I hate carols and the only Christmas movie I can stand is Gremlins (which is a Christmas movie, in case you’d forgotten). I’m one full-body-green-make-up job, or a pair of ghostly business partners,short of a grumbling Christmas cliché. So, how was I going to share something of my Christmases without depressing everyone or, more importantly, myself?
I thought I’d offer up some small anecdotes of my family’s most epic Christmas fails.
Don’t worry; this isn’t going to turn into a post about drunken disputes, family feuds, or a mother weeping into a glass of sherry. I don’t live in Eastenders. It’s also not going to be a list of terrible presents, though it could have been: there’s nothing quite like the look on the face of someone who has just unwrapped an ironing board cover …
No, my family (like most) is capable of some wonderfully bizarre, sneaky, pitiful Christmas moments and I’d like to share them with you all. Because therapy is expensive.
It feels appropriate to kick off with my own epic Christmas fail. I was just six years old. Now, I do not mention this fact because it excuses my behaviour – no – if anything what I’m about to tell you indicates a developing awareness of what I was capable of, and the power I had over those around me; a power I used to ruin Christmas.
My older brother and sister were home from boarding school for the holidays. I didn’t, and never would, attend a boarding school. I’d visit their campus, with its rolling cricket fields, tree-lined drives and stern limestone buildings. And then I’d return to my concrete-monster of a state school. Over the years I’ve dealt with the bitterness of this inequality . . . clearly. But looking back it was very much on my mind as we drove out beyond their school’s iron-wrought gates a week before Christmas.
When we got home, I got the usual taunting and rough-and-tumble beatings that are an older brother’s right to dish out by birth. He seemed to store it up for a semester and then the flood gates would open the minute he saw me. In this particular instance, I was sandwiched between the sofa and its cushion as my brother attempted all kinds of elaborate dives and elbow-drops. Between sniffles, something broke.
‘I know what you’re getting for Christmas,’ I screamed.
The pummelling stopped. The whole room went quiet. From my wedged vantage point I could see my sister across the room, trying to watch TV, but my brother was a presence I felt rather than saw. I vividly remember her face paling.
‘Don’t,’ she said.
My brother landed hard on the cushion.
They have never forgiven me.
The second story follows on nicely: a little sisterly revenge. Fast-forward five years. I’m eleven, my sister is twenty-one. I’m not quite a teenager (when it all went wrong), which means I’m still excited by Christmas and the opportunity of material gain it represents. My Argos catalogue had more wonky red circles in it than a broken slinky.
So, that year I unwrapped my presents in a frenzy, taking just long enough to read the names on each tag. A present from my sister. I said thank you before a single strip of sellotape was harmed. Alarm bells should have been ringing at her sheepish look, but I dove right in. Curiously there was more wrapping paper beneath the first layer. White, red and blue faded stripes. Deep-down I recognised the paper from somewhere. If it weren’t for my mum filling the house with the heady smell of Christmas tree, cinnamon, and orange, I would have figured it out before the crushing disappointment.
I ripped open the paper and out poured an assortment of penny sweets. About twenty pence worth.
Now, I’ve been a student long enough to forgive the monetary aspect of this epic fail. But what still rankles is that I hated penny sweets and still do; some say I was old before my time.
So she ate them.
To prove that not all epic fails are perpetrated by kids, I thought I’d share a fail by my girlfriend’s father. He gets very excited about Christmas, particularly the presents. To his credit it’s not the receiving, but the giving that he likes.
The scene was fairly typical: early(ish) morning, everyone still in pyjamas, sitting around the tree. One person was designated to hand out the presents. This is how it has always been done in my family. I assume it’s universal, but maybe other people have a scrum beneath the tree? That year, my girlfriend’s dad took on the role. He was always surprised by the number of presents under the tree, which probably had something to do with personally buying about two of them – he had one of those sweet deals where he just signed his name on the tags.
That year his excitement got the better of him. He passed a present to my girlfriend and said:
‘Here, open this book!’
We fell about laughing, he looked confused. We’re not the kind of family to disguise presents – no DVDs with scrunched balls of paper to hide the shape. It was fairly obviously a book, but this line has gone down in family history.
And finally, for the most underhand and pitiful Christmas present epic fail, I have to look further afield: my American cousins. The youngest and only boy – five at the time – had an unfortunate habit of losing his favourite toys towards the end of November. His sisters – seven and nine – helped look for the toys as best they could, but when nothing could be found they did their best to console their brother.
When Christmas Day came my cousin rushed downstairs to open his presents. Lo and behold, his sisters had carefully boxed and wrapped replacement toys for those he lost. Exact replacements. With tears of joy in his eyes, he said:
‘Thanks so much! These were my favourite, but I lost them.’
A month is a long time for a five-year-old. But apparently at the ages of seven and nine, it’s just long enough to hatch a plan that falls so outside of the Christmas spirit, that I am in awe of them to this day; to steal your brother’s toys and then give them back to him as a present isn’t a gambit that can be pulled off for long, but they made the most of it. If it wasn’t so devious, I’d say there was some kind of lesson in there somewhere: something about the mindless joy of consumerism. . . or maybe it’s the thought (or planning) that counts.
Merry Christmas all. Feel free to share your family’s epic present fails in the comments!