It didn’t take three ghosts to change Richard Hathway’s miserly ways at Christmas – it took becoming a parent.
Christmas. Has any word in human history conjured up such joy for kids and terror for parents at the same time?
There’s the list for Santa that you have to begin in mid-October. But then if you plan ahead and buy what’s on the list, you find the whole list has changed by November because the little ones have seen a million adverts for other useless plastic crap by then. There’s the inner of not wanting to lie to your kids, but also not wanting to give the game away about Santa. And then there’s the soul-destroying boredom of the nativity play. There were donkeys, we get it.
Maybe it was the years I spent working in retail that turned me into a cynical Crimbo-basher. I saw a lot of other people enjoying the season, but for me it was just endless days of filling shelves and snaking queues of customers. I remember one year being woken early on Christmas morning and being told, “Stop being so grumpy, it’s Christmas!” But it wasn’t Christmas for me. I’d been in the shop until late the previous evening and had to be back in the shop at 6 am on Boxing day. It wasn’t Christmas day, it was my one day off in a 17-day stretch in the record shop.
(To sidetrack for a moment, can I raise a festive toast to everyone who works in any service industry or emergency service over Christmas. I can tell you it’s very much a thankless task, badly paid, and stuffed with irritable twats who have left it too late and feel it’s acceptable to take it out on the shop staff who, like said twat, would rather be anywhere else. Spread the love this Christmas people – a smile and a thank you will go a long way.)
Then I became a parent at Christmas. My partner and I had some trouble conceiving, so we weren’t concerned with when our child would be born. All the plans we had for when would be the best time to have a kid went out the window, replaced with the anxiety of maybe not having a child at all. When Mrs H got pregnant (back of the net!) we were ecstatic. Our son was due in mid-January, but complications meant he had to be delivered early. So, on December 25, 2011 we welcomed our son to the world.
Yep, that’s right, my son’s birthday is Christmas day. This puts me in something of a quandary. You see, after leaving retail I tried to change. For the first time ever I could enjoy the office Christmas party, Secret Santa, and actually having some time off over the festive season. Yes, I could see the appeal, but I just couldn’t make myself like Christmas. It’s the expense, the commercialism, the forced fun, the effort of putting up that bloody tree. It all puts me in grump. I can’t see the point of buying, writing, and giving cards to people I see all the time – but if I don’t and they do, suddenly I’m a bad guy. Drinking at 11 am on a Wednesday is frowned upon in May but come mid-December is totally acceptable if you’re wearing a quirky jumper with a Reindeer on it. Bah, humbug indeed.
But I love my son and really want to celebrate his birth. He is the most wonderful thing that’s ever happened to me and I want to be full of joy and love on his birthday. I need to bury my inner-Scrooge and be a fun, cool, happy dad – not just moaning about all the packaging waste that’s going into recycling dad.
Over the last six years we’ve experimented with various formats for the Christmas/birthday clash and I think we’ve got it about right now. Christmas in our house happens on Christmas Eve. Santa makes a special trip to our house on the night of December 23. Coffee and Pain Au Chocolat gives Mrs H and I the necessary boost to get us going. Mrs H is genuinely excited, because she’s a nice person, and I smile and tell myself to embrace the chaos.
Christmas Day is then free to be given over completely to birthday celebrations. It’s a family affair because no matter how popular you are, you’ll never get anyone to a birthday party on Christmas Day. So, we have a ‘half birthday’ party in late June so all his mates can tear around a hall for a few hours.
If you see me nowadays over Christmas, you’ll see me smiling. I’m not happy because it’s Christmas though. I still sort of hate Christmas, but I love my son. I love the memories Mrs H have of those days on the maternity ward with our new born boy. I love the new traditions that we have begun and the family time we have together. I adore seeing my boy so happy on Christmas Eve and on his birthday. I look forward to watching Christmas films and having a cuddle with my kid.
Oh damn, maybe I love Christmas after all.