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Column: Mama Said by Emily Martin

It's the most wonderful time of the year and, after 37 Christmases, Emily Martin reckons she has it all wrapped up

We all know the drill. It started in October when we stumbled out of the summer, a bit covered in grass and scorched, and were suddenly amazed that it was somehow almost Christmas.

We tutted at the mince pies in the shops, but also bought them. The clocks went back. We noticed some damp in our houses and wondered what a dehumidifier is and whether we ought to get one.

And by the end of October, we were absolutely panicking because while we were worrying about damp and being amazed at how dark it was by 5pm, one of our friends had done all their Christmas shopping, the kids had started asking how many days it is until Christmas and whether Santa will get a trampoline down the chimney, and suddenly our mother-in-laws have invited us for Christmas lunch.

It’s at that exact point every year where our dream of spending Christmas in a hotel, waking up to a misty morning view and being showered with a small selection of stylish, glittering presents, dies. That dream is dead by November 1 every year.

Collection of family enjoying Christmas holiday home outdoor activity decorating New Year tree, giving gifts, ice skating, build snowman, sitting by fireplace (20783460)
Collection of family enjoying Christmas holiday home outdoor activity decorating New Year tree, giving gifts, ice skating, build snowman, sitting by fireplace (20783460)

37 Christmases have taught me that none of us will ever spend Christmas in a hotel receiving elegant, glittering gifts and relaxing with coffee. Especially not now there are children.

Instead what will happen at Christmas is most of the following:

Before the day:

Amazon will start coming to your house almost every day with a box.

You'll start saying "Right, I'm phoning Father Christmas" to get the kids to do things.

You'll check your bank balance and make a mental list of everyone who you can have a frank and honest “Let's not do presents this year" chat with.

You'll make plans to meet up with the friends you only see at Christmas for the annual Christmas drink.

You'll order a turkey from a butcher for £60, even though you can buy a chicken for £3 and it's the same.

You'll go ice skating and pay £5 for a penguin skating aid, and then your small child won’t find it helps them as much as they hoped, and will cry.

Oh yes you WILL go to the Panto.

You'll go supermarket shopping for very specific things at very strange and strategic times. Like parsnips at 11am on Christmas Eve.

You'll YouTube that old episode of Jamie Oliver where he put bacon in his sprouts and honey on his carrots.

And also, the one where he makes his gravy in advance and his Christmas is so chill.

It’s A Wonderful Life will be on, but at an absurd time like 8.15am on December 24, when you can’t watch because you’re boiling your cranberries.

You’ll read The Night Before Christmas to the kids on Christmas Eve because you always have, and you always will even when they’re 20 and tell you to please stop.

On the day:

Your kids will wake you up anywhere from four to six o’clock in the morning asking if they can go in the living room.

You’ll try to be cheerful and excited, and it will feel very at odds with your usual morning demeanour.

You’ll put the fire on to make it cosy, but in fact it will just make the living room unbearably hot.

You might have a full cooked breakfast, as per your family traditions and if you do, may I ask HOW you then eat your Christmas lunch? It’s always baffled me.

Your dad will offer you a glass of prosecco at 10am when the rest of the year he gets on at you for drinking too much.

All the battery-operated new toys will be flashing their lights and playing tunes over and over and over and over. . . maybe that prosecco was a bad idea.

Christmas tables with young children involved will be a fraught scene of adults standing up, cutting bits of roast potato and turkey into small pieces for their children and saying “Quickly, gravy? Do you want gravy??” while their own dinners grow colder.

Someone is likely to cry in the kitchen at some point due to stress.

Someone else is likely to cry in the kitchen due to a family rift.

There’s always the risk of a massive family blow up too, where the kids will watch from the doorway like it’s a live EastEnders kick-off, giggling and open-mouthed with wonder.

If Christmas marks the occasion of remembering some people who aren’t there with you anymore, there’ll be a toast. And then the lump in your throat will ruin your first few mouthfuls of lunch.

Someone will say cleverly “It takes three days to prepare and only three minutes to eat” while you’re doing the washing up.

Whoever does the washing up will be completely soaked, socks too, by the end.

After the day:

Your recycling bin is in very bad shape.

Someone might have to go to work between Christmas and New Year which will feel appalling.

They’ll be a massive plate of cold roast veg in your fridge (for bubble and squeak) but you have to wait for grandma to go home before you can chuck it out.

Someone will whisper to you that they hate the Christmas tree and wish it was gone.

You'll try to make perfect family moments involving everyone wearing onesies, eating leftovers and watching films. You might even succeed.

You'll get bin day wrong and start the New Year with a garden full of bottles and cardboard.

There’s no point in asking each other what we’re doing this Christmas, because we’re all doing all of this.


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