For many people Christmas is a magical time of year. A time for family, feasting and merriment and the often forgotten reason of the celebration the birth of Jesus Christ.
For a heathen such as myself it is a living hell. A grim travesty of fake bonhomie, mindless consumerism and gluttony, plus the inevitable reruns of Morcambe and Wise. And although those of you who have witnessed my kamikaze-style attacks on the bar and buffet whenever there’s a freebie going might not believe it, but the two week overindulgence frenzy that is Christmas in Spain is not my favourite time of year. As I’ve said before, the festive period is full of amateurs getting out of their tiny skulls at the office party whilst wearing silly hats, and I pride myself on being a professional lunch guest.
But – love it or hate it – one thing is certain. You can’t avoid it. Christmas screams from every shop window and if you turn on the TV and you are assaulted by Christmas specials. Step outside and your neighbours have turned the street into a Christmas wonderland of fairy lights and tinsel.
Well, maybe you’re just not trying hard enough, so here, with apologies to those already high on festive spirit, is the Planet Marbella guide to avoiding Christmas.
I’m often in favour of going into Christmas denial. Blank it out and let everyone know that you’re considering working on the 25th. Then make it clear to everyone you know that they will not be receiving a gift this year or a card. Not that the Spanish postal system has a hope in Hell of delivering your Christmas card to the old country much before Easter. And don’t even think about buying a tree. I’m still trying to work out in which Gospel Christ told his followers to kill trees for Christmas. Apparently the custom was brought to the UK by Prince Albert, that royal Germanic pioneer of private piercing.
Forget the fizz and festive fare and fill the fridge full of salads and soft drinks. That certainly stops the neighbours popping by for a seasonal slurp.
The trouble with trying to blank Christmas out is that there is always bound to be at least one elderly relative who fails to understand the beauty – or indeed the point – of your scheme, leading to hurt feelings and unwanted knitwear.
It might also be a difficult one to get away with if you have children, as will be hard to avoid the suggestion that you are just being tight, miserable or both.
Failing that you should perhaps go to the other extreme. Now I’m not sure about the names of the three kings who turn up two weeks after Christmas but at my place they might as well be called Mastercard, Visa and American Express.
Walk into any department store around in the two-month long shopping season that seems to comprise Christmas and I dare you not to walk out with enough decorations to make your two-bedroom apartment look like the backstage area of Le Cage aux Folles. Enough shiny sparkling things to make it look as if gay Mardi Gras has blown through and redone your decorating. I’ve given up on Christmas trees for one reason. I have a cat. OK, not a cat, more a psychotic feline companion. To you it’s a Christmas tree; to me it’s a Christmas tree. To my cat, it’s a seven-foot assault course, which she normally attacks at 3am. Trust me: trying to right the damn thing at that time in the morning, wearing my Santa dressing gown and having enjoyed my usual port and cheese after dinner is no easy task.
It’s all very well moaning about Christmas but what about doing something a bit more worthwhile and occupying the moral high ground at the same time?
There is always plenty of scope for good works at this time of year and you don’t even have to get off the sofa. The Methodist Relief Development Fund encourages people to donate the money that they would spend on a Christmas tree to a tree-planting scheme in Africa and Asia. This will, the charity says, help small scale farmers produce the affordable food they need. And that will really give you bragging rights at the next post-Christmas dinner party discussion. Especially when the chap on your left has to sheepishly admit to treating himself to a boxed set of Jeremy Clarkson DVDs.
Not every branch of the Christian faith celebrates Christmas, which was, after all, originally a pagan festival. With Christmas now awash with the combined forces of sentimentality, bad manners and worse taste you should perhaps look to other religions to provide you with an excuse to celebrate.
For Hindus, the big one is Diwali, which is celebrated every year on the 15th day of the dark fortnight of the Hindu month of Ashwin (October and November). Jews celebrate Hanukkah whilst one of the biggest feasts in the Muslim calendar is Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan.
Then there is Kwanza, the African-American Christmas. Invented in 1966, it means “first fruits of the harvest” in the ancient African language of Kiswahili, and is celebrated from 16 December to 1 January. Its devotees claim that 18 million people worldwide celebrate it. And “Merry Kwanza” has a certain ring to it, don’t you think?
But not observing Christmas as a religious festival is only half the battle. For really hardcore Christmas avoidance there is really only one answer. Flee the country.
Few corners of the world, however, remain untouched by Christmas. Even Communist Cuba, where Christmas was banned until a couple of years ago, goes mad, although its not known if Fidel gets into the swing of things and dons a Santa suit. He already has the big white beard. Even Vietnam and Thailand largely Buddhist countries, get in on the act.
Otherwise my advice to avoiding Christmas (In fact my advice to avoiding most things, such as your ex, hacienda and your impending mid-life crisis) is to head to Las Vegas. They are all far too busy gambling and playing poker to even notice Christmas, or even what day it is.
If you haven’t got the cash to travel – and most people who owe you money disappear around the second week of December, resurfacing about a week after Three Kings – then the best way to avoid Christmas just tell everybody that you are going to a fabulous house party in the hills, then stock up on your favourite meals and DVDs and don’t answer the phone. You can get away with this for up to a week, then people start worrying. Normally about the cat.
If this all seems too much, then the only way out is to take the opposite approach and try to go to as many Christmas parties as you possibly can, without paying for anything over the period. The coast is awash with successful companies all trying to outdo each other over the festive season, so it is the perfect time for the professional blagger to get to work.
This is the time of year that the Liggerati love. (From the Latin verb liggerae – to eat and drink as much as possible while someone else picks up the bill). You’ll spot the Liggerati fairly easily, as they tend to turn up with depressing frequency in the social pages and/or hogging the camera on the Spanish prensa rosa. They think they have a God given right to turn up to any function, guzzle the booze, eat the food and then make off with a goodie bag full of jewelry, watches and whatever else isn’t bolted down. Most of the Liggerati are minor European nobility or, until recently, had family connections to Marbella Town Hall.
Don’t worry if you haven’t got an invitation, if the event is on a large enough scale just smiling nicely will normally get you in. And once inside the venue you’re bound to spot the familiar faces of fellow blaggers with whom you can compare notes about the standard of canapés, the quality and quantity of alcohol and the possibility of a leaving gift. You’re extremely unlikely to be asked for any formal I.D. When compiling the social pages of a Marbella magazine several years ago, I sent the hostess of a very ritzy gala photographs of the event and asked her to identify her guests. “My dear, I don’t have any idea who these people are” she replied. So there you have it. Wear a decent suit and don’t cause any trouble and you can wine and dine your way through Christmas without paying a bean!
Bah, and Merry humbug to you all!