I can’t launch into my Christmas column without acknowledging that it’s going to be a strange one for most of us this year. Perhaps, for some, a welcome excuse to keep things small and quiet, but for many more, feeling poor and a wee bit lonely, it will be harder than usual. So, with that in mind, here are a few small ideas to cheer you up in place of the usual big bird-related advice.*
Buy a huge pile of tangerines, or something of that ilk. Plonk them in a nice bowl somewhere prominent. Admire their plump beauty. Stud one with cloves and leave it on the radiator to perfume the room. Save some of the peel as you work your way through the bowl and put that on the radiator too. Stick the dried peel in a gin and tonic, or a pot of tea. String it up to make decorations. Pound it to a powder in a pestle and mortar (a satisfying task while listening to the news) and mix it with sugar and ground cinnamon or nutmeg. Sprinkle it over chilled slices of tangerine. Sprinkle it over your porridge. Sprinkle it over mince pies.
[See also: How class defines British food]
Make those mince pies. Make the pastry and buy the mincemeat. Make the mincemeat and buy the pastry. Make both. Stir extra nuts, boozy cherries, chocolate chips, or chopped apple into the mincemeat. Spike it with whatever alcohol you didn’t drink during all the lockdowns. Add some grated tangerine zest. Lift the lids off the hot pies and stick a dollop of clotted cream or brandy butter into the steaming middle.
Or buy your mince pies and bake gingerbread decorations instead. Take some to your neighbours. Convince your children you’re a magician by making stained-glass biscuits out of boiled sweets. Let them loose decorating a chocolate yule log and try not to see how much icing they’re eating.
Warm a saucepan of cider or apple juice, add a cinnamon stick or some of that dried peel, and wonder why anyone bothers with scented candles. (Stir in some sugar if you like; it’s Christmas.) Spend an afternoon building a chalet out of charcuterie. Make this the year you get further than just googling edible gifts.
Break out the power-cut stash and breakfast by candlelight. Whip mixed spice and honey into soft butter and spread it on your morning toast. Swap the bread for panettone or stollen. Swap your morning tea for spiced chai, or make your coffee with cream rather than milk. Drop cranberry sauce on your keyboard from a Christmas sandwich that’s homemade for a change. Swap dessert for hot chocolate made with cinnamon and nutmeg and top with squirty cream; add a dash of whisky or rum if you’ve got nothing important to do in the afternoon. Eat pigs in blankets for dinner.
Buy a hot drink for someone living on the streets, or for the person behind you in the queue who looks like they’re having a bad day. Stick a big tub of chocolates in the basket next time you do a shop and take it to your local food bank. Offer some to the binmen and the postwomen and the delivery drivers who’ve worked so hard these past months. Smile.
But most importantly, in a year that’s been tough on everyone, and in a season that’s all about being kind to others, be kind to yourself. Take ten minutes where you can find them to sit down with a cup of tea. Trust me, you deserve it.
*A wafer-thin silver lining: it’s a lot cheaper and easier to cook for two than 12. And if you’re on your own over Christmas, I strongly recommend looking on it as a good excuse to please yourself, whether that means a turkey takeaway or a cheese toastie and a Tesco trifle.
This article appears in the 08 Dec 2020 issue of the New Statesman, Christmas special