There’s a lot to dread about the festive season. The evenings spent flitting between tabs trying to find the best price on a scented candle, the one you vaguely remember your mum saying she wanted, while still maintaining enough of your budget to get your dad that box-set of war movies and your nephew whatever the fuck a ‘Hatchimal’ is.
The stress of navigating your journey home while everyone else in the country tries to do the same. The way it makes you realise that Christmas has become that bit less magic because, yet again, you’ve turned that little bit older and only have, at a push, if you’re really lucky, fifty or so December 25ths left before you are dead.
Worse still, you have to spend it with your family.
Now I don’t presume to know you or your family, but I do know that they are godawful, wretched people and you despise them. I can’t actually see or hear you right now, but I know you’re all flustered; you’re getting up from your chair and wagging your finger at your screen, aren’t you, protesting internally: “Hey ShortList, hang on there just one hot second! There’s no need for that! I like my family! I love them, in fact! You don’t know my family, I know my family! Just because you personally have a fractured, loveless family, that is no reflection of my own, and millions of others like me! You’re wrong, ShortList! I love my family… And I can’t wait to spend Christmas with them… Genuinely! Really!”
All the conviction drained from your thought process as you were going over that pathetic little spiel. Even if you do, as you say, ‘love’ your family, you remember the opinions of the people you’ll be pulling the crackers with and wince. Normally when someone in your family tries to broach a belief that bristles at your sensibilities, you can just make an excuse and put the phone down. But on Christmas, the day of contrived familial closeness, of closed doors and no public transport, you have to look them in the eye, and either ignore the nonsense cascading from their mouth or engage with them.
Here – in the spirit of shared experience, offering up some solace – are all the things your family will probably say that will make you resent them this Christmas, and all the things that you will probably say which will, in turn, make them resent you in equal measure…
The Brexit analysis
Damn son! The Brexit was one hot tamale! Opinions will be flying across the table faster than the scalding hot gravy boat through your nan’s shaky hands. Your portly uncle’s spent the morning reading the Telegraph and rewording their angle to seem like his own, and as soon as it’s lunchtime and the turkey’s carved and everyone’s begrudgingly put their little paper hats are on, it bursts out of him as eagerly as his paunch bursts through his M&S shirts. “I think, mid-to-long-term, it will actually be of great economic benefit to the country,” he posits, arching a wise brow.
Your cousin scalds him because she’d been planning to move to Berlin to make collages when she graduated and now she’s just going to have to make do with travelling around Vietnam for a year instead.
Your granddad hasn’t been as buzzing about anything as he is about the Brexit and getting his blue passport back since VE Day, when Europe united and thwarted the rise of fascism. He’s waving a forkful of turkey in the air and pretending it’s a Spitfire.
One of your Guardian-reading in-laws starts to speak. They’re an in-law married into your family from a better-off one. The in-law is talking about how they feel the easily led ‘working class’ voted Leave because they are too dim to know any better, and maybe, if We ever want to get back into power, we ought to start listening to their “legitimate concerns.”
You’re tense as fuck now, curling your toes into the floor and biting your tongue so hard your mouth is filling with blood. If you can just make it to the Queen’s speech without anyone saying anything actually raci-- “Send them back!” comes a strange, unexpected voice, a Hellish screech erupting from the corner of the room. It could belong to either one of the in-law’s parents, or maybe it was both at the same time. “Send them back! Brexit means Brexit! Farage For PM!”
Turns out people you are now related to by law are a racist. Sorry, pal. Your only course of action is to call out their racism. Or say nothing, swallow your response for a quieter Christmas, knowing that next time another future-altering vote comes up, this is the impulse that will be guiding them at the ballot box, and that their vote means exactly the same as yours.
The ‘yeah, but...’ Donald Trump talk
Donald Trump… An unrepentant racist, sexist, homophobe and Islamophobe... will become president of the United States of America?! Now that’s a spicy meatball! His name elicits tuts, derision, and laughter from the entire table, united in their amazement the US could elect a caricature of An Extremely Bad Leader. Everyone, it seems, except your younger brother. He’s gotten bang into Reddit recently. He’s wearing his ‘Make America Great Again’ cap to the table, which you initially thought was a joke, but he seems to be getting increasingly earnestly excited about the ‘Alt-Right’ and ‘giving Trump time.’
He’s trying to show you a Milo Yiannopolous tweet and keeps talking about how oppressed his ‘community’ is. Turns out he means ‘the gaming community.’ Thirteen years of taxpayer-funded education undone by a few errant Google searches and some Call of Duty. He’s thinking about starting a YouTube channel to talk about politics. “I’m not having any grandson of mine praising a damn Yank under my roof!” snaps your granddad, putting a firm foot through his MacBook.
The Deaths Of 2016
Whatever you’ve thought of this calendar year, you’ve got to admit it was an absolute banger for massive celeb deaths. Christmas is a particularly maudlin time, a finite point in the calendar for reflection. Someone at the table is going to be gutted that David Bowie isn’t breathing the same Yuletide air as the rest of us, someone else will feel that about Prince, likewise Alan Rickman, Victoria Wood, and Leonard Cohen.
It will be quite a genuine, heartfelt outpouring of grief and touching exchange of fond memories of figures that really did mean something each individual around the table. Then your brother will pipe up, catastrophically misjudging the mood and claiming ‘Harambe’ is actually ‘the saddest death’ and you’ll cradle your head in your hands knowing exactly what’s about to happen.
Then someone will ask him to explain who Harambe is, and he’ll reply through sniggers that it was a gorilla that was shot because a child fell in his enclosure, then he will point to the sky, whisper ‘RIP’ and ask everyone to do a mock minute’s silence that will serve to baffle and enrage your wartime-surviving relatives. Needless to say, his MacBook will be getting another swift foot through it.
The Gift Rigmarole
Open it! Open it! Did you like it? Did we get it right? You’re so hard to buy for! We kept the receipt, you can always take it back if you don’t like it. You don’t like it, do you? Try it on. Go on. See if it fits. It’s your size. It should fit. You don’t like it though, do you? Have you got that one already? You’ve read it already, haven’t you? Why don’t you show everyone your new selfie stick? Go on, go get your selfie stick! The man in the shop said it was the ‘number one present’ this Christmas! As we said, we’ve kept the receipt. We tried really hard this year, but if you don’t like it, you can take it back. You’re so hard to buy for. What is it? It’s a football watch! It goes ‘Goooooal!’ on the hour, every hour! Oh. You’ve ‘grown out of’ a football watch now, have you? I thought you liked football. Of course we kept the fucking receipt. You have no idea how fucking difficult you are to buy for. Money down the drain. Every fucking year. No, we’re not going to just ‘give you the money instead’? Why? Because that’s not a present! You really are the most ungrateful wretch. Fuck you, then.
The fussy-eater fallout
Christmas is especially difficult for anyone who has made the conscious decision not to kill, eat, and then shit out animals. First off: the host is mad resentful they’ve had to scour BBC Good Food to get a recipe for a beetroot wellington they really can’t be arsed to make.
Second: everyone else at the table is taking your dietary choice as a challenge to their own. “What about fish? Do you eat fish? I bet you eat fish… Fish counts as meat!” “If humans didn’t eat meat, farmyard animals would die out! You’d kill species as a result of trying to save them!” “It’s not healthy to just eat leaves! It’s evolution baby!”
Third: there’s a chance you might actually be a little bit sanctimonious about your lifestyle choice, which is actually really annoying. “No, I will not watch footage of battery-farmed turkeys having their heads lopped off at the dinner table, just let me pump myself with rotten carcass in peace on this, Christmas of all days.”
Everyone around the table knows about The Incident, but no one dares talk about it. If it was a literal elephant in the room, it would be big enough to tear the roof off and crush everyone to death. It hangs in the air, unspoken, but informing everyone’s interactions with one another. But because nobody’s ever formally addressed it, at least not in front of you, you have no idea quite how severely The Incident rocked your family.
During some playful-banter-turned-lightly-heated-jibes, you chance an offhand reference to The Incident, hoping to use a bit of shock humour as a trump card, while also diffusing the tension around The Incident once and for all. Next thing you know, the Christmas pudding’s up the wall, at least four people are in tears, and you’re now in deepest Peru hiding as part of the witness protection scheme with a new identity and one eye over each shoulder.
The Big Career Chat
Your mum doesn’t understand what you do for a living. You’ve tried explaining it to her many times, but all she knows is that you didn’t become a lawyer. Or a doctor. Or a job that would allow for at least a modicum of boastfulness to the other people she knows in Sainsbury’s.
“Isn’t it time you tried, well, something else?” she’ll say, as if you’ve been resisting becoming wildly successful by choice. You’ll pull a hard-done-by face. Leave it out, you’ll think. It’s bloody Christmas. “Your mother’s right,” your dad says, intervening. He also doesn’t understand what you do for a living. You’ve tried explaining it to him many times, but he’ll just wince at you, as ashamed as if you’d been describing your doomed early sexual conquests in excruciating detail. All he knows is that he wanted you to become centre half for Man United, and you’ve manifestly failed to do that, just as he did, and so he’s going to make you feel bad for crushing his dreams the second time round.
Soon everyone will be chiming in, until the whole table’s gathered round a laptop, reading extracts from your LinkedIn and laughing.
The Board Game Drama
Aunt Lynn has been gagging for the board games all fucking day, man. She’s only here for the board games. But she knows she’s a grown adult, and so can’t let on how fundamentally ‘into’ board games she is. She patiently sits through the family tearing open the presents, smiling, thinking “come the fuck on, hurry the fuck up, I wanna play some fuckin’ boooaaaaard gaaaaames”; she stoically plows through the under-cooked roast potatoes without complaint, just wanting to get dinner over and done with, her dice-throwing hand bobbing up and down under the table as a dog waits for a juicy bone.
Aunt Lynn becomes increasingly agitated as people lazily push their last sprouts around the plate and make idle chit-chat. She’s waiting. Waiting for just the right lull. She’s surveying the room. There’s a Jack Bauer clock ticking in her head...
Just as your dad looks like he’s about to go off to the shed to have a go on his new power tools, she leans across the table and screams “ANYONE FOR MONOPOLY?!???” Everyone groans, but before you can make your excuses and retire, she’s already laid out the board, neatly arranged the bank and given you the boot. The classic Monopoly fact is that it was a game initially designed to prove the inherent flaws and frustrations of capitalism, so in order to win, it actually necessitates you to be a complete bastard. It’s a game that’s supposed to make you furious, to alienate everyone around you, and Lynn wants to subject the entire family to it. Your only option is to cut your losses and immediately flip the board, choosing the needs of many over the needs of Lynn, at which point she will fume out of the room, possibly sobbing, returning three hours later to inform everyone her and the kids will be cutting their stay two days short and driving back at once.
Congrats. You just saved Christmas.