The festive treason

2011-01-10 00:00

IT is the day after the Day of Goodwill and I'm in bed with a force-10 migraine. How did this happen? Shouldn't I be filled with bonhomie and good cheer after spending time with family and friends? After all, isn't this supposed to be the festive season?

I had a lot of time to think while lying in a darkened room. And I realised that the holiday season, like a cheap and cheerful Christmas cracker, does not deliver what it says on the box.

At the end of a long and difficult year, all I really wanted to do was to put my feet up, stare out at a peaceful view, preferably one with a sea in it somewhere, and not be responsible for anything for at least a week. In contrast, society decrees that at this time of the year I must become Supermom and produce an array of delightful feasts to keep an extended family happy and joyful. Why this falls on me I'm not too sure, but that's how it's been ever since I had children.

When the children were small, it was much easier to keep them pleased with a few big and bright presents. But over the past two years, due to the recession, we've slimmed down the materialistic craziness which threatened to bankrupt us for the year ahead. Now we buy one present each for just one member of the extended family and make it as thoughtful and personal a gift as possible for a set amount of money. To add to its impact, the giver has to write a poem to express his or her appreciation of the recipient. This has worked out well and circumvented much of the need to enter the lunatic asylums which malls become at this time of the year.

But somehow society's need to celebrate every second from Christmas Eve to New Year's Day has not abated. So for a change this year we decided to minimise the cooking load which often falls on me. We went out to a restaurant for a group Christmas lunch. A good idea, you might think. Not so much, as it turned out. For one thing the restaurant owners became greedy and decided to maximise their income by doubling the number of people that their restaurant could comfortably take. We arrived to find queues as long as those for an international football match stretching around the single buffet table. Then, as my two younger

children queued, an old man brought out of a home just for the day by his well-meaning son lost control of his bodily functions. All of them. In the queue. Just in front of the buffet table. Right next to my most idealistic young adult children.

No surprise that the two of them decided not to have any food. So we paid full price for two youngsters who would not eat a thing. The day was pretty much ruined from then on.

But I tried to count my blessings in a Pollyanna-ish sort of way. I'm grateful to have a large extended family to share their likes and dislikes with me over this busy season. I can imagine how lonely and heartbreaking it must be for those who have no one to be with at this time of unrealistic familial expectations. It's no wonder that the suicide rate goes up during the so-called festive season.

I still don't understand why we expect so much of this time of the year. We rarely achieve harmony in life during the rest of the year, so it's really silly to expect it to arrive perfectly formed just because it's Christmas.

So as I face a new year, I've decided that the trick to life is to enjoy every moment with the full knowledge that it's probably exactly like the Christmas crackers placed on our restaurant table at the disastrous lunch. If we re-concile ourselves to the fact that life is often cheap and cheerful on the outside, makes a brief and rather disappointing bang and contains something you

never really wanted in the first place, we won't expect too much. I'm also going to make a list of the inevitable disasters, which will happen during every festive season and I'm going to replace the tired old jokes in the crackers with our own personal howlers. After all, they're so much better than those jokes we've heard so many times


• Janet van Eeden is a part-time teacher and writer.

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