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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.”

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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.”

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]

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