Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Culture
  2. Life
9 December 2021

Do we need a multi-sensory “experience” to make this Christmas perfect?

It makes me feel 100 years old to be complaining about the season’s over-commercialisation, but isn’t it really about togetherness and glorious anticipation?

By Tracey Thorn

Can it really be that time already? Christmas, I mean. Come on, it’s only five minutes since my last Christmas column. I have a quick check to see what I wrote this time last year, hoping to avoid repeating myself any more than usual, and find that it was about wishing for a “good enough” Christmas, amid the dread and disappointments of lockdown.

And so here we are again. I feel slightly guilty that I may have brought this new Covid variant situation upon us. Only last week I wrote that the days of lockdown were surely – surely – behind us now. About half an hour after I filed that piece, Omicron was discovered. I will now try to keep my trap shut and avoid making any predictions for the future, restricting myself instead to the observation that it will instead be another Covid Christmas, and that we will once again have to make the best of things.

I’ve had my booster and I am hanging on to the reassurances about vaccines still having at least some protective effect. Masks are back, and given that for me they never went away, I am happy to find myself no longer in a tiny minority, for instance, on trains.

[See also: I’ve been shut off for too long. It’s time for some little ordinary adventures]

It’s odd, though, how so much of the conversation seems to hinge on the question of whether or not this new variant will spoil Christmas. I’m a Christmas fan, as we know, but even I find the perspective a bit skewed. Can Christmas be “saved”? Or will Christmas be “cancelled”? I read these headlines, and I think, “I honestly couldn’t give a fuck either way, I just hope we’re not all going to be dead by spring.”

Select and enter your email address Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.
THANK YOU

Up on Hampstead Heath, where I walk every morning, they are busy “building” Christmas. In the last couple of weeks I’ve watched a huge workforce stringing lights in the avenue of trees leading to Kenwood House. “That’s a nice idea,” I’ve thought. “I will enjoy seeing those lights at dusk.”

Content from our partners
Building the business case for growth
“On supporting farmers, McDonald’s sets a high standard”
City of London Corporation brings stakeholders together to drive climate action

Boards were laid on the grass, and up popped those little wooden huts that signal the arrival of a Christmas market. “How lovely,” I thought. “I will enjoy wandering around and buying an unusual carved wooden ornament while sipping a mulled wine.”

[See also: How one recording studio embodies everything that went wrong in the Eighties]

Then signs appeared, which suggested that all this was more than just your basic festive decorations, and so I visited the “Christmas at Kenwood” website. There I discovered a lot of very excited ad-speak for an “illuminated trail”, a “dazzling winter wonderland”, and – oh lord – a “visually stunning, multi-sensory mix of light, fire and sound”. Turns out it is a ticketed experience, with tiered price levels so that you can ensure priority entry, exclusive access to the bar, and a voucher for a “VIP winter cocktail”.

It makes me feel a hundred years old to be complaining about the over-commercialisation of Christmas. And that isn’t exactly what I am doing. It’s more the over promising that this kind of event falls prey to. I thought about shelling out for tickets for all of us to go up there, perhaps on Christmas Eve; what could be nicer? But then I thought: it will just be some lights in the trees and a mulled wine from a hut, and it might well be raining, and do I really need a “visually stunning, multi-sensory mix of light, fire and sound” on Christmas Eve, when the whole point of Christmas Eve is that it is exciting solely because of something inside your head, some childhood fantasy, some folk memory of snow and sleigh bells and togetherness and anticipation, glorious, glorious anticipation.

I am possibly just being a little Scrooge-y. Maybe it will be wonderful, and not at all like the mound at Marble Arch, or any of those other wonderland disasters we’ve all read about. And maybe I will end up buying tickets, and dragging Ben up there with me, and however many of the kids are home with us.

Maybe the addition of more and bigger lights – and FIRE! and SOUND! – will make Christmas perfect. And maybe, as Ron Sexsmith wrote, “Maybe this Christmas will find us at last/In heavenly peace, grateful at least/For the love we’ve been shown in the past.”

Maybe. Hope so.

[See also: How I wish my old diary held more detail of the night I met my husband]

Topics in this article :

This article appears in the 09 Dec 2021 issue of the New Statesman, Christmas Special