Now that it is officially December I am feeling slightly less bah-humbug about the hideously commercial Christmas carry-on gripping our city. That said, I feel slightly ill when I realise that "the season to be jolly" is already well over one month old. Shops cashed in at the end of October, coffee retailers released their seasonal red take-away cups ages ago. Now, however, as we're all expected to have finished our Christmas present shoppping ("We've given you a month! How much more do you need?"), it is time for us to start enjoying the festive traditions and "doing christmas-y things". For me, proper Christmas itself always takes place back up in Staffordshire with the Accidental family, yet since I've lived in London, I've had a whole separate London Christmas as well, celebrated this year on 12th December.
To paint a picture, once upon a time, in a land far away in the North East, 8 girls lived in a large former B&B/hotel together. They had many friends who would visit for tea, vodka and chocolate biscuits, some of whom spent so much time in their house everyone forgot they didn't actually live there. When these girlies were done being students they packed up their house and headed off to different places all over the country to start being proper working folk. But missing each other they met up frequently and, in manner of a dysfunctional, sort of non-related family, decided they would have their own Christmas each year; given that most of these girls lived in London by the time the festive season rolled round the first time, the great British capital would be the annual venue.
Arriving by train, or car, or bus or on stout-booted foot, us girlies from all over the country rendezvous on an always soggy December Saturday at Hyde Park, at the gluhwein bar nearest the tube station. After much hugging and shrieking, and catching up, our merry band of chums wanders about the muddy spectacle of Hyde Park's "Winter Wonderland". And this year it's bigger than ever before. My, but it was busy. I stood, attempting to locate the other girls, in a sea of people in coloured anoraks, all hurtling over my feet, feeling much as Moses might have done if the whole sea-parting thing had come unstuck; it was biblically panic-inducing. After my first styrofoam mug of hot vino however I was more charitably disposed towards my fellow Wonderland wanderers. (Not towards the ones with the buggies, with children flailing welly-booted feet at ankle-level though. They should be banned - the buggies and the children.)
We strolled (moving any faster would've been a challenge through the sea of bobble-hats, woollen scarves, and faces pink from cold and over-excitement), we drank more gluhwein, we munched the odd bratwurst. We marvelled (well, laughed in a superior we've-been-here-before-and-know-you're-being-ripped-off manner) at those stupid enough to pay a small fortune to ride on tilting, twirling rides, waving huge metal, flashing legs in the air, like giant tarantulas who'd got tangled in fairy lights. After a merry but chilly few hours, with all out-of-town girls arrived, we headed off to West Hampstead for a full turkey dinner, awful, yet unfortunately mandatory, Christmas music, and presents. Seven off us negotiated the Jubilee line without serious problems, collected two who'd got stuck in traffic then gone to the pub to get stuck into the gin, and a final tenth arrived in time to chop parsnips.
Armed with more wine, we chopped and peeled like Santa's elves on secondment to Delia Smith's kitchen. Finally, dressed for the occasion, we were all sat round a groaning table, on an interesting assembly of chairs, stools and stacked furniture. A toast was raised to Christmas and friends, the crackers snapped apart, the dreadful jokes shared and we all tucked in. Our head-chef did us proud - it was a fine feast! Two courses down, plus Christmas cake and mince pies, and the table was strewn with empty plates, torn wrapping paper, and, somewhat unwisely, winking tea-lights. (Only two blazing napkins were rushed to be extinguished in the sink however, so no serious calamities.) Silly games were played to the accompanyment of the kind of banter of people who know far too much about each other, and are rather well alcoholically lubricated. Just like a traditional family Christmas, except no enforced time with people you would otherwise never choose to see. In an age where one's familial nearest may not necessarily be one's dearest, the friend-family may well be the way forward!
Mariah Carey might only want "you" for Christmas, but we want our families AND our friends (and brandy butter and roast turkey and little sausages wrapped in bacon), and as long as one of our number has a house to comandeer in London, Christmas will likely continue to come twice a year for us lucky girls!
(P.S. - a disclaimer to all Accidental Family - no disparaging remarks about familial nearest apply to you. Obviously you're all fabulous - ignore the poetic licence and the overdose of gluhwein!)