It’s all John Lewis’ fault, of course, and people don’t like that.
A decade of those weepy Christmas ads has put a tiresome qualification on society’s unstated agreement to spend one conscience-free month a year in getting bloated, developing liver failure and creating a little landfill site of unwanted stuff in houses up and down the land. What John Lewis has recently said to us, through the bouncing boxer dogs, penguins, sad looking children, hares, bears and a tearful looking Elton John, is that Christmas is about the more noble things, like love, hope, aspiration and kindness. Oh, and the annual partners’ bonus. And then they allgot into it. Every supermarket, and every department store- at least the ones that are still trading- felt that they had to come up with some cloying clip that pretended for 30 seconds that it isn’t all about rampant commercialism. That we need to divert ourselves with a bit of the deep stuff.
Consequently, in a thousand offices in trendy converted warehouses from Shoreditch to Sheffield, creative people called Xavier and Stu in waistcoats and ridiculous purple glasses have found ways of both making themselves money, and us weep, just so we could feel slightly more shit about the money they knew we would spend on their clients’ products anyway. I mean, they even made me want to lend Elton a tenner to see him through to Boxing Day, for God’s sake.
At least in the old days, we were all brazenly commercial about it. We felt that we could start saving whales, loving our neighbours and being generally charitable once the Christmas tree had gone on the compost heap, and the bills started coming in. That was what New Year’s resolutions were for. Nowadays, we have all become accessories to a paragraph in the corporate social responsibility section of a hundred company reports to the effect that the company cares. No,reallycares.
So it’s a huge delight to welcome back some uncomplicated festive competition in these darkened times. The advent calendar arms race has started all over again, and it’s bigger and better than ever.
It starts, innocently enough in mid November with a monochrome bit of card that probably cost £0.20p, sent to us by a carrier company, to differentiate them from the 27 other carrier companies who bring stuff to our door. It accelerates to a £3.95 flimsy chocolate bearing job that Caroline buys for our two adult children at the local BP garage to ‘put them in the mood’. Child 2 calls to thank and mentions that they have some Marks and Spencer ones (£5.95) in the student house already and Child 1 retorts that one of his flatmates’ mothers has already given each of them a Hotel Chocolat one, but thank you anyway. In true poker style, I see his Hotel Chocolat one (£8) and raise him Fortnums’ Truffle Selection (£35) but only if he comes home and eats it here. And on it goes. And the great news is that nowadays, it can go on for ever.
Once you depart from chocolates, which seems rather to spoil the point, you can go anywhere. To Molton and Brown, for example, with their £175 ‘tasting cabinet’, which kind of assumes that you like tasting Muddled Plum bath and shower gel, or the orange and bergamot mini candle. Or onwards and upwards through John Lewis themselves, through Liberty (£195) and pausing briefly at Jo Malone (£300). Presumably, the country is full of people who have both the time and inclination to pad downstairs in their slippers and dressing gown hoping that this is the day of days that they will get lucky with the English pear and freesia cologne. Hell, years ago, you just got a bit of card with some suspense as to whether you got a tiny picture of a lamb, an infant Jesus or a shooting star when you opened each day’s window. For some reason the 18th, which I remember as it’s my birthday, always had a sick looking camel in the window.
And you can go higher still, much higher. And more male, much more male. Until you finally end up with the £9999 (how did they make that work?) ‘Drinks by the Dram’ advent cabinet, where each day reveals one of 24 handmade, wax sealed drams for your delectation. Not bottles, mind, drams. Which means that each tipple has cost you over £300, and all you have left over at the end is a top quality hangover and a lacquered box that you could re-use to incinerate the family tortoise if it doesn’t make it through to the New Year. The tortoise, that is, not the box.
Doesn’t the very thought of it make you want to stick love, peace and harmony where the sun don’t shine for a week or two, and get back to what the whole thing is supposed to be about?
…..if it wasn’t for those food banks.