Eat, drink and be merry

Pay no heed to seasonal advice from official gloom-merchants.

Stephen Bremner

Topics Politics

At this time of year, those in authority in Britain seem to view the prospect of people letting their hair down, and having a jolly good time, with a mixture of fear and trepidation.

Christmas celebrations have always provoked mixed feelings in those in authority. In the past, there was tension between authorities’ attempts to emphasise the Christian nature of the festival, and the Victorian celebration of family values; and the more earthly and secular desire of people to have a good time as nights grow long and temperatures drop, otherwise known as ‘any excuse for a piss up’.

These tensions have often been found in that classic mini-drama of small-town life, where the Christmas Eve midnight mass (religious contemplation) is interrupted by the arrival of drunken revellers, who having been expelled from the local hostelries (secular celebration) attempt to bond with those more spiritually inclined. Throw Santa Claus, Christmas trees, the exchange of presents and New Year’s Eve into the mix, and it’s clear that society has developed a whole raft of rather incongruous traditions.

In recent years, as the influence of Christianity and the Church have declined, a new set of authority figures has gate-crashed the Christmas party and attempted to impose a new set of values: the values of caution, risk aversion, safety and self-restraint. Unlike the religious values of the past, which at least offered some hope of redemption as represented by the birth of Christ, or the parallel set of secular values, which at least offered the possibility of simply having a good time, those in authority today offer only an eternal diet of self-flagellation and self-denial.

Take the advice on the Food Standards Agency (FSA) website about how to eat food over Christmas (1). One section entitled ‘Safer Christmas Eating’ offers such gems as, ‘Always make sure turkey is properly cooked before you serve it’, because apparently ‘eating undercooked turkey (or other poultry) could cause food poisoning’.

In the ‘Healthy Christmas Eating’ section, the FSA seems to suggest that parents spend Christmas day ensuring that their children get their five portions of fruit and veg. One piece of advice is: ‘If you find it almost impossible to get your children to eat any veg, especially anything green, try serving some hidden portions… try topping steamed broccoli with some grated cheese.’ So forget simply enjoying spending time together as a family, and instead think about creative ways of ramming vegetables down your children’s throats.

If any adult feels tempted to overindulge, there is advice for them too: ‘if you feel full, try to resist the temptation to stuff in another mouthful! Take a break instead.’ Apparently, even on Christmas day itself, restraint must reign. The FSA does conclude with the advice to ‘…eat, drink and be merry’ – though it unsurprisingly it doesn’t recommend the types of wine that would go well with your (well-cooked) turkey.

Conspicuous alcohol consumption would clearly contradict the official advice that no alcohol should be drunk if one is contemplating going anywhere near a motorcar over the Christmas period. Transport secretary Alistair Darling said at the launch of the annual Christmas drink-drive campaign that: ‘We need to remind people that drink-driving can kill.’ (2) Presumably this reminder is necessary in case anyone has failed to note the nightly carnage projected into our living rooms during the rest of the year, via the rest of the government’s anti-drink driving TV advertising campaign.

It’s unlikely that people would adopt the government’s highly impractical advice on drink driving. Such a course of action might make the roads an infinitesimally bit safer during the Christmas period, but we have to ask whether we actually want a totally abstemious society, in which we converse over orange juices at Christmas parties before slipping off home to wrap up the children’s carrots. Is the risk posed by a single glass of wine really so great?

We may not wish to wrap up any presents at all, if we adopt the approach of a German campaign group that has announced an anti-Santa Claus campaign on the basis that ‘Santa is a symbol of consumption. He is a symbol of shopping’ (3). Pleasingly, the journalist Caitlin Moran rejected such miserablism, writing: ‘Any objection to Christmas being “over-commercialised ” ignores the fact that what people are “consuming” is generous presents for their fabulous mums, bin-men and next-door neighbours.’

Therapists also look beneath the happy veneer of family solidarity and worry about the dark underbelly of the Christmas experience. Relate, the self-styled ‘relationship people’, seem to believe that the public even needs advice on the tricky business of ‘Christmas shopping’ (4). Apparently, trying to go shopping with your significant other is enough to drive some to ‘despair’. Fortunately Relate has some advice for couples who are incapable of communicating about shopping. It suggests, for example, that: ‘People have very different shopping styles – talk with a partner and discuss your individual shopping tactics, logistics and time available before you set out.’ Or, to put it another way, avoid all risk of fun, spontaneity, and the occasional lovers’ tiff, by planning your Christmas shopping as if you were about to conquer Everest.

If one wishes to leave the house to get away from the vegetables, the despair and the lack of a stiff drink, don’t go to a football match without checking that the game has not been moved so as to avoid crowd trouble. For the first time a football league match, between Wrexham and Chester City, will kick off at noon on a working day, 28 December (5). According to the Chester ‘Safety Advisory Group’, this is for ‘public safety reasons’. It is certainly the case that there will be no trouble if nobody is at the game. Seemingly officials will do anything for a quiet life, rather then risk a bit of boisterous behaviour over Christmas.

At least Trafalgar Square will be open this New Year’s Eve for those who wish to enjoy it, but the official attitude is that people should be encouraged to attend the fireworks display on the banks of the Thames. Ken Livingstone, that arch miserablist London mayor, memorably dismissed the traditional Trafalgar Square celebrations a few years ago with the dour statement: ‘the only thing to do in Trafalgar Square will be to get cold and wet.’

Perhaps it would be better to stay home, after all, and play with the kids – so long as you haven’t given them toy guns to play with. Michael Todd, chief constable of Greater Manchester Police, has called for such toys to be banned as he argues they lead to armed officers being called out in false alarms and having to make ‘split-second’ decisions (6). This seems to suggest that a child playing innocently with a Christmas present could be in imminent danger of being blown away by an armed officer, who might mistake them for the Manchester youth branch of al-Qaeda.

Incidentally, don’t go to Sainsbury’s to buy a copy of Jerry Springer the Opera on DVD as a present for a more mature relative either. After a handful of complaints, Sainsbury’s has removed the offending item from its shelves. Obviously, adults aren’t seen as capable of making choices about morality for themselves.

It can only be hoped that the British public resists such cautious official humbug, as it did when the Puritans outlawed Christmas in the seventeenth century. So let us ignore the gloom cast by the new army of therapists, PC policemen and misanthropic ministers, and do our best to have a really enjoyable Christmas. Happy Christmas one and all!

Read on:

Who killed Christmas?, by Josie Appleton

Don’t mention the C-word, by Nancy McDermott

Teaching adults about ‘scary Santa’, by Munira Mirza

(1) Healthy Christmas eating from the Food Standards Agency

(2) Christmas drink drivers targeted, BBC News

(3) ‘Why I won’t turn my back on Santa Claus’, Caitlin Moran, The Times, 28 November 2005


(5) Reported on the Red Passion website

(6) Police chief urges toy guns ban

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

Topics Politics


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