HOW DO YOU face Christmas — with the joyful confidence of a Napoleon before -Thattle certain that the Austrian army will bog it again — with the chilly dread of a fastidious Byzantius facing Osmanli Turks — with the indifference of a mortuary keeper — with the greed of a King Edward VII – with the rage of a revolutionary mob faced with a palace they can't get into — with the sadness of a hungry child looking into a shop window heaped with food — on your knees?
Charterhouse has his own plan or Christmas, checked on The Catholic Herald Computer, recently blessed by Bishop Cormac Murphy O'Connor whose holy water fused the thing. (He is a great man with the hyssop and watch out for the •Asperges in Arundel.) Still, it was a great ceremony and the massive cope embroidered by the Ladies of the Paper with scenes from the life of the Duke of Norfolk is now one of the Cathedral treasures, though seldom on public view. But Charterhouse, from his pinnacle of years and absurd kindness, offers advice on how to treat, how to survive Christmas. It must be known that only the English make themselves so unhappy and guilty and piggy and ill about the whole thing. Fortunately this advice, by design, is given too late to have any practical effect.
It must be added that other nations sprung from British loins behave with an equally tragic extravagance.
We have all heard of people looking forward to Christmas. Have you ever heard of a person looking hack and saying — that was a marvellous Christmas". If so he is undoubtedly now one of those • illars of salt that Rural
• ss raiti District Councils (I know! I know!) use to de-ice the roads and rot the undersides of British made cars.
The trouble is that we have lost the manner of wassailing in any decent manner. If they dragged the yule log into my house it would ruin a rather elderly carpet and a little thing I picked up with the Ambassador's wife in Teheran (a prayer carpet). So let us look at the details of Christmas. And we have to start with Food, that ravening beast that lies in wait to devour us who have devoured it. If you see what I mean. (Priests and nuns need read no further. It does not apply.) We cannot even feast properly _ anymore. Who can now sit down to course after course, to a table loaded with dishes, to footmen for ever pressing another rich dainty at your left hand elbow? Medieval food must have been high, plain, greasy and dull. Nineteenth century food was a form of showing off. And we combine the worst of both every Christmas, And invariably regret 1 realise I have not been writing about the teeming poor who were lucky to get a bit of bacon, even in the country.
But our dreadful Christmas dinners, looked forward to with _ such joy, regretted in post prandial surfeit.
How fine the glistening turkey looks. How dry and dreary it tastes. A goose at Christmas would be more traditional, but that is a dull, fat thing. A great joint of beef would be about as romantically historical as you can get. But you simply are not allowed to slip under the table any more or fall asleep in the solar or snore all afternoon as if you were a tanker in trouble in the channel.
I would suggest a pheasant and a duck (domestic) on a platter — if you want to demonstrate gastronomically your gratitude for the birth of Christ.
Don't forget to put boiled and peeled chestnuts into the brussels sprouts. They help to take away that awful healthy taste.
There is no need to buy rare nuts, fine raisins, Carlsbad plums. glace fruits, Marrons Glaces. chocolates from Charhonel and Walker. Florentines (I grow faint with longing in this paragraph) bunches of hot-house grapes. dates, tangerines, chocolate Bath Olivers, jars of ginger, cherries in brandy, sugared almonds, Gentleman's Relish in beautiful jars, Pate de Isois Gras in domed pots and caviare in glass jars. None of these are necessary. Give them Smarties.
Christmas pudding is only tolerable if it is so soaked in brandy that it suggests journalism or the law. Mince pies are all right if you go easy on the pastry and souse them in whiskey.
Children: -lhese are the black bane of Christmas. Silent Night, my foot!
They will get over expectant and over excited which is not at all good for them. But the should not be walled up with presents and. for certain. there N\ ill be tears at the end of the da).
But parents will convince themselves that they are doing the whole thing for the "kids". Charterhouse believes in v,it\ Christmas stockings, not, in ridi electronic plastic toys that do sinister demolition or military jobs.
Children cannot, of their nature, spend a day or more of concentrated excitement. Ths scream, throw up or break their toys. And the secular side of Christmas brings out the worst in them.
It is therefore best to postpone the giving of presents to that heavenly period that lies between the third Mass of Christmas. i.e. the main day time one and the serving of "dinner". (The insin meal on Christmas day is als, a). referred to as "dinner".)
However Christmas stockings may be set out after midnight Mass. They should be filled iili simple, old time and cheap pi-e semi; like packets of Alka
Seltzer, small improving books. false eye lashes, ball point pens. lavender water. macaroons, ;cheap and unsuitable toys, and orange, a note saying "Please do not disturb".
Presents present an appalling problem. I. personally, am in favour of quiet agreements among families to keep it doss ii In my family we have the s% ell known Concordat of Etienbralgc In this-we agree to keep it do‘s ti. And it works.
One sister gets' the Catholic Herald. The other a trinket. I get a tie from one and Private Eye from the other and we are all content and relieved.
Presents in fact should be planned the whole year through. Wherever you are and you see something cheap and nice that might do for Aunt Holocaust. buy it and put in your Christmas cuphoard.
In practice this is almost impossible to achieve. My cupboard had but one thing in it this year, though that of unparalleled splendour and uselessness.
A large box of chocolates for the family will rot their teeth. over excite them, be soon forgotten and will solve all your problems.
Have you ever thought of a cheese?
If you are rich — and who is not'? get the whole lot in one fell hawk-like pounce at Fortnum and Harridges. And make them deliver.
Christmas Cards: These are largely excuses for a year's neglect of a friend or a relation. I don't send any at all. The result is that the intake dwindles alarmingly. The real answer is to write an enchanting letter at Christmas to all your distant friends and unvisited relations. This of course, is the work of the woman of the house. Men no longer write letters, except about money to their solicitors, the behaviour of their children to headmasters, the inadequacy of reporters to their editors.
On the whole I think Christmas cards are phoney.
Hospilalit): On the whole Christmas is a private time and. possibly, a little discreet drunkenness is permissible for the very joy of the occasion — mats pas devant k's enfants.
It may be that you will have blood relations who will turn into wicked fairies if they go uninvited. So ask them and ruin your "dinner" and offer it up. They should be treated with high formality, offered sweet sherry and be made to listen to the Queen's speech.
I know one is expected to ask someone in some sort of trouble to a Christmas meal. I am out of tune. I find those meals for senior citizens grizzly and dread the time when I shall have to don my
paper hat and make merry with me peers .and there will be
nothing to drink. OAPs in any healthy society should be offered the choice of going home staggering.
If you ask someone to your house because he or she is boring or beastly or really rather sad, hide your compassion and treat them like unrecognised Christs.
Hostility: To Christmas is a surburban sort of reaction. It is compounded of tiny vestiges of religion and disappointment that, for all the spending, something glorious does not happen. And there is the expense. And the trouble. (My dear, don't you just dread Christmas?" — said as they lurch heavily out of the delicatessen.) The saddest expression of all this is going off to an hotel for Christmas. The joy, the good cheer, the Musak carols are guaranteed. But, oh the sadness of it all.
The solution at least for Christians is simple. Christmas is a great least of the Church hut by no means the greatest. But it has come to be the feast of the human race and the greatest and most loving of all the feasts. It has an earthy quality — which justifies the browsing and sluiing. It has the powee to make loneliness even more poignant. It compels one to think of those you love.
But it is a Christian feast and anyone who does not reckon on this must make a muck of it.
If you are a Christian there are the quite peculiar joys of the Christmas Masses. And this awesome joy is very old and is one of the few things that Prince Albert did not import into Britain.
"Some say that ever 'gains that season comes Wherein our Savour's birth is celebrated, The bird of dawning singeth all night long; And then, they say, no spirit can walk abroad; The nights are wholesome; then no planets strike, No fairy tales, nor witch bath power to charm, So hallow'd and so gracious is the time."
And that's the point. Christmas has its own inbuilt joy — even for
the lonely. It's not a saturnalia. It is not a time of ostentation, but privately, quietly, gently. generously. more than on your own birthday, it's a time of delight. Watch and pray is one side. "Nothing too much" is the other. And hark who's talking!