Stephanie Saulter on Christmas

Hello, dear readers. It’s one week until Christmas and we’re here with another wonderful blog post for you. This time the fabulous Stephanie Saulter has stepped up to explain why she doesn’t really do Christmas – and why that’s a perfectly reasonable Christmas tradition in its own right. Take it away!

 At the risk of sounding like a grinch, the only Christmas tradition I seem to consistently observe is the need to explain to people here in the UK that I really have no Christmas traditions – at least not anymore. It’s a consequence of having (a) no faith, (b) no children, and (c) no family in this country. Though I’ve generally found it best not to explain at all if I can help it, since I am then invariably offered commiserations for (a) or (b) or (c), at which point I have to point out that I’m perfectly content with my circumstances. I really don’t miss Christmas on a personal level. As for missing it as a social phenomenon – well how can you? It’s been here since September.

But since I am explaining (somewhat against my better judgement), I suppose I should try to muster a little more toffee apple and a bit less sour plum. When I was growing up in Jamaica in the 70s and 80s I happily partook in the buzz and excitement around Christmas, although as mine is a nonreligious family our celebrations were decidedly secular in nature. We always had a tree (though not always a fir tree), and presents (no stockings; they’re not exactly tropical attire). I remember lots of visits and long phone calls, as everyone made the effort to catch up with relatives scattered around the island and abroad. Certain crops only come into season in our winter and so are typical fare at Christmas-time (all, I’m happy to report, far more palatable than the culinary abomination which is the Brussels sprout). The standard thing to do on Boxing Day was go to the beach (though with temperatures typically only getting up to around 23C in December, we often found it a bit nippy).

So you see, my Christmas associations come from a very different environment. I do not understand the excitement here around citrus – our kitchen was never without a huge basket of oranges, juiced every morning for breakfast. The ‘Christmas jumper’ is as baffling a cultural phenomenon as any I’ve encountered, and even after fourteen years in the UK I’m still not entirely sure what an Advent calendar is. Or why.

Nevertheless I think I might have stayed tuned in to the season if it had maintained the sense of being a concentrated time, meaningful because of its brevity. When I was a kid we never gave it a thought until the last week of term, no shopping or decorating got done before we were on holiday, and by the second day of the new year it was over, cleared up and tidied away. Short and sweet. Now the whole thing starts so early that whatever specialness it might once have had is, for me, diluted into nothingness. It’s only on the rare years when I’m in Jamaica, surrounded by my brothers and sisters and nieces and nephews, that I regain a bit of that old-time magic. I know that I, at least, have only just arrived; and will very soon be gone.

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