It’s started. In London, there is suddenly, timed perfectly for the arrival of November, a nip in the air, and Christmas trees are going up in the shops. I was so excited the first time I saw one that I found myself being upsold into buying some overpriced Christmas coffee, even though Christmas is still seven weeks away and also Christmas coffee is definitely not a real thing.
The adverts have started, too. Percy Pig, the nation’s favourite porcine confectionery, now speaks in the same voice as Spiderman. Jenna Coleman, meanwhile, is starring in a Boots ad named “Bags of Joy”, which manages to seem like a remarkably big stepdown in dignity even though she spent three years in Doctor Who.
The big one, though, is the John Lewis ad. This year it’s about a small boy who discovers a crashed flying saucer and, instead of freaking out and alerting the proper authorities, decides to ply its occupant with mince pies in a transparent attempt to get a snog. Much of the commentary on this year’s offering has focused on whether or not the advert is “woke”. This is baffling until you realise that this word now literally just means “has black people in it”.
(I wonder, incidentally, if the soundtrack was originally meant to be a slow acoustic version of Chris de Burgh’s “A Spaceman Came Travelling”, until someone noticed that song was, confusingly, about the Angel Gabriel and changed their mind. If anyone wants a hysterical column about the appalling way that woke bastard Chris de Burgh spent the mid-1970s rewriting Biblical cosmology, then I’m your man.)
Isn’t it a bit soon, though? It’s barely even November: we’re still in the season of people whining that anyone celebrating fireworks night is being self-centred for upsetting their dog. “Why does all this Christmas stuff have to start so early?” asks your boyfriend, who changed his Twitter name to “Richard but scary” at precisely one minute past midnight on 1 October.
“Christmas creep” is a perennial problem. Americans, at least, have Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday in November to stop Christmas from occupying too much of the previous month. The narrative that it has been getting ever worse is hard to square with the 1974 animation It’s the Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown!, which includes a joke about a shop that puts its Christmas decorations up in April. Even if it’s untrue that all the Christmas nonsense starts earlier every year, though, it certainly often starts a surprisingly long time before Christmas.
Well: I don’t care. It’s 6 November, there are 49 days until the big day, and I am ready to go all in. Fairy lights. Tinsel. Drinking hot booze at lunchtime. The whole shebang.
The last few years, after all, have been awful. It was bad enough up until 2019, with austerity, Trump, Brexit, and the constant, unshakeable sense that everything was about to collapse. Then, just as we were all getting our heads round the planet being so damaged that the Arctic spent part of the year on fire, fate decided the people who don’t bother reading the news were getting off lightly and gave us a global pandemic to cope with, too.
Hardly any of us got the Christmas we wanted last year; many of us, scared of passing potentially fatal viruses to our loved ones, didn’t have one at all. The highlight of my Christmas, spent alone, coughing and rebuffing my mother’s periodic suggestion that she send my stepfather round to pick me up, was watching some terrible 1980s Doctor Who down a WhatsApp connection with the Covid-positive friend whom I suspected of having given me the cough in the first place. (I’m allowed to be mean about him now, he’s fine.)
This year has been better, in that we have vaccines, but that last winter lockdown spent waiting for them to be rolled out was somehow the worst one yet, and we’re now all on edge waiting for a vaccine-resistant variant to emerge. What’s more, this summer was a damp squib, and we’re still stuck with a government that’s so incompetent it continues to think employing Boris Johnson is a good idea. The roaring 2020s have yet to even squeak.
The original point of the midwinter festival from which Christmas descends was to celebrate the point at which the worst time of year, in a society dependent on daylight and good weather, was halfway done. Sometimes, you need to celebrate not because good things have happened, but precisely because they haven’t.
This year, to me, feels like one of those times. There will be shortages this winter. We won’t get everything we want and the pandemic isn’t over. But the purpose of Christmas is to give society a break, and this year, my God do we deserve one. I don’t care if it’s November. Somebody pass the sherry.