Christmas Behaviour: a Timeline
Ever spat on an elf?
Image: Daisy May Majere, via / Public domain
Christmas is a lawless time of year. In the UK, it is even more detrimental to the public than a long standing heatwave, which forces otherwise upstanding members of the community to saw the top half off their VW Golf and drive it around like a convertible, or go on national television complaining that it is simply too hot to wear a shirt. Heatwave behaviour makes you delirious with a mixture of joy and fury as you do things you wouldn’t usually consider doing at a regular temperature, like eating a lolly at your desk or getting pissed out your head on a Monday and putting an astonishing bet down on a sport you don't even understand based on a "gut feeling".
Christmas behaviour is similar. The joy and fury are still there, but they no longer co-exist. They are split apart and flung to the furthest ends of the psychological spectrum to create something altogether more sinister, something monstrous. Christmas behaviour is taking out a small loan to go rabid in the M&S food court. It is engaging in silent but very real decoration warfare with everyone on your street, which begins when that one mad couple trims up in October, and ends sometime in March, when someone finally posts a note through the letterbox of number 8 asking them to "take your f*cking lights down!!!"
It is donating money to Shelter and, two hours later, shoving an elderly woman out the way over a bag of parsnips in Asda. It is catching a train at 5PM on the 24th of December and being completely livid that it’s so busy you have to sit on top of your suitcase, that other people besides you are using the service at all. It is eating and boozing and eating and boozing until you’re on the brink of gout, stuffed like a drug mule at customs. If you put a finger to the back of your throat and you can’t touch the remnants of a mini-quiche, is it even Christmas? If you don’t deeply, wholeheartedly fucking hate yourself by the 26th of December, did you even celebrate at all?
Unlike heatwave behaviour, which is rooted in the chaos of the unknown – When will it end? How will we cope? – Christmas behaviour has structure. It has a definitive narrative that is played out again and again by the British public every single year. We will now trace this narrative through the greatest barometer of societal madness currently available: the news.
10. Good Intentions
The festive season begins the same way most things in life begin: with the best of intentions and empathy for our fellow man. Goodwill stories bolt immediately into the news cycle in late November / early December as we begin the initial phase of Christmas behaviour. This is when optimism reigns supreme and you will tell yourself things like "this is the year I volunteer at a soup kitchen" and "I will get a present for one of my elderly neighbours". This is before the dreadful grip of work stress, social fatigue financial pressure take hold of your soul and rapidly turn you bad. If you're going to do any of these things – which you should – do them now. Do them now. Christmas behaviour!
9. Gentle Whimsy / Mild Annoyance
The first sign of madness beginning to infiltrate society is non-events suddenly becoming newsworthy because they happened to someone dressed as Santa. Something so commonplace it barely has life beyond the knee-jerk "thieving BASTARDS" response it elicits, but ends up being a top BBC News story with interviews with three separate people because it generates sentences like "Unfortunately, Santa parked his sleigh in the wrong bay" and "Santa was fuming". Christmas behaviour.
8. General Vandalism Disguised as Festive Vandalism
Third on the rung of the ladder we have: acts of vandalism that, while not politically motivated by Christmas in and of themselves, are considered more tragic on account of the added layer of emotional destruction. Realistically speaking, if you erect something in the middle of a city centre – whether it's a statue of a pig or a massive bauble – someone a few Stella Cidres deep will either try to sit on or kick the shit out of it. In this act, we see the twin forces of "Christmas" and "behaviour" converging. This is our lives now. Everything from here on is Christmas behaviour.
7. Questionable Decision Making
Now, this is absolutely fucking Christmas behaviour because I know exactly what has happened here. Upon refusing to pay £30 for a tree from B&Q like everyone else, "when there's loads of them outside for free", a vigilante dad, gassed up on magic and wonder and resentment over having to spend half his monthly wage on a load of "shit" for the kids, has decided to drive to the local forestry, hack down a tree twice the size of his work van and transport it home down an A-road – safeguarding himself from accusations of "reckless behaviour" by hanging a hi-vis jacket on the top branches. This is heroic. This is hazardous. This is Christmas behaviour.
6. Culinary Masochism
I'm as here for excess when it comes to food as the next glutton, but when we reckon with stuff like Gammon and whiskey crisps, deep fried mince pies or a three course dinner in a pasty – all released under the guise of "festive fun!" – we must call it what it is: fucking disgusting. This isn't food, this is intestinal torture whose damage would stand the test of three enemas. The only reason anyone would eat any of this is simply because it is there. Christmas behaviour.
5. Festival Vandalism Motivated By Interpersonal Beef
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens did a decent job of capturing the meaning of the season. Fair play to him, he had a good go at it. He is, however, wrong. The true spirit of Christmas in Britain is an elderly woman in a duffle coat breaking incredibly slowly into a neighbour's garden to passive aggressively hack down (some?) of their flashing Christmas decorations with a pair of scissors. She could have asked them to turn them off, but that wouldn't have been very Christmas behaviour.
4. Accident and Injury
Someone making the annual trip to the attic in search of boxes of tinsel and falling straight through the ceiling while their partner takes photos and laughs: huge, huge Christmas behaviour.
3. Daytime TV Starts To Go A Bit Weird
2. Stress and Disillusionment
Most people assume that Christmas ends at midnight on the 25th of December, when your spirit is high, your senses are dulled and your belly is full of potatoes, but this is false. Christmas ends long before Christmas begins. What happens is: you are born and, for a while, Christmas gets better in tandem with your awareness of the world. The bigger your eyes get, the more wonder goes in. Then you hit a peak somewhere between the age of five and ten, and from there it's just a downward slope into tradition and credit card debt.
Christmas ends at the age of eight, when your dad wakes you up stepping on a squeaky floorboard and you begin to suspect that Santa does not, in fact, disintegrate in order to come down the boarded-up chimney in the living room. Christmas ends in your thirties, when you start to resent how many people you know with kids who are taking all the attention away from you all of a sudden. And Christmas definitely ends when you, a young child in your big padded jacket and awkward gloves, totter to a grotto to tell Santa – or one of his helpers, you're not an idiot – your dreams and wishes at that precise moment in your hopeful little life. You get a glimpse of his big red mass and anxiously go over in your head what you're going to say to him, but before you get there: Santa goes mental. Santa rips his own facial hair off and has a full on psychological meltdown caused by any number of life stresses you've yet to understand. Santa tells you to "fuck off" and something deep inside you goes numb forever. Christmas behaviour.
1. Mam Rage
Finally: mam rage. Mam rage is the legendary Pokémon of emotion: rare, elusive, unique. Dad rage is reliable. It releases itself, without fail, gradually throughout the season – over the tree, over the sets of lights that weren't tangled when he packed them away last year, so why tHE SODDIng hell are they NOW, over the brief but incredibly specific food shopping instructions they've been tasked to deal with. Mam rage can come at anytime, any place – but always all at once.
Christmas can take a great psychological toll on any parent, or person in general, as it illuminates financial difficulty and carries the added guilt of things needing to be as magical as possible, which can make any pre-existing difficulties feel much worse. Sometimes, though, it's just fucking stressful because It Is Fucking Stressful. And sometimes – like when some jobsworth in an elf costume tries to tell you that you need a reservation for your kid to see Santa in a shopping centre, for example – that stress will come out via your spit into their eye.
Christmas behaviour. May we respect and celebrate it always.