I SAW my first Santakini last week. For readers unfamiliar with the wilder shores of the novelty festive wear market, this is a mankini of the type made famous by Borat, retooled for Christmas in red nylon with white fun fur trim.
It is not a pretty sight, nor is it meant to be. It’s a single disposable joke item, designed to be worn for the office party, Tweeted, Instagrammed and Facebooked, before being banished to a cupboard for ever.
There it will join a red, white and acrylic heap of Christmas jumpers (various), antler deely boppers, LED Rudolph earrings (broken), Santa hats (in blue, green and black, as discarded by Rangers fans, Celtic fans and Scrooges). There will be Christmas tree sunglasses, flashing brooches and other seasonal items for Christmases past. The Santakini may even meet its ancestor, a Mrs Santa outfit made of rash-inducing nylon and the world’s scratchiest fake fur.
Now I am not a black hat-wearing Scrooge. Truly, I like Christmas and happily putter about with fairy lights, adorn chocolate logs with icing sugar and drink my own body weight in mulled wine. Just last week I ate dinner with a teenager who insisted on keeping on her new sprout hat for the duration of the meal. But I resent being subsumed by the tsunami of tat that seems to have broken over the whole season.
Christmas jumpers, for example, have gone from being a visual gag in a Bridget Jones movie to becoming a national institution. The woman serving me in Tesco the other day was adorned with a sequined cracker bearing the legend “pull me”. There are cool, understated ones with minimal reindeer or abstract snowflakes and old-school gaudy versions with snownmen and penguins in scarves. (Some are actually quite funny – I like the one of long-suffering Jesus, holding a balloon, that reads “birthday boy”.)
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What I don’t like about them, or Santakinis, or tea towels with holly springs, or any of the other thousands of festive geegaws, is their disposability. Come 26 December, they will look tacky and old and be consigned to landfill or clutter up a drawer. Christmas creates enough waste – enormous Amazon crates, the vast boxes that contain toys and tellies, ripped wrapping paper, torn gift bags, to say nothing of uneaten parsnips and inedible chocolate liqueurs – without gratuitously adding more.
To rip my knitting even more, during the festive season this egregious tack fills shops where, for the rest of year, it is possible to buy useful things. But come December, the cat litter disappears, to be replaced by babies’ Ho Ho Ho bibs and toddlers’ reindeer onesies.
Further shelf space is colonised by the Santakini’s almost equally irritating relation, the gift set. As far as I can see, gift set is a euphemism for useless annoying things, often in miniature sizes, packaged in a fancy box and overpriced. These horrors, taking up the space normally required for dental floss and bandages, encourage the harassed and unimaginative to give a large array of cheap, nasty, small items – make-up brushes, flavoured hot chocolate – which cost the same as one lovely full-sized version. This is every kind of wrong. No-one wants six different types of marmalade in dolls’ house jars.
Proof of the inherent hatefulness of the gift set can be seen in every charity shop in the land. There sit last year’s offerings, unopened, unused, waiting to be regifted and for the process to start all over again. But who is going to buy a second-hand Santakini from Save the Children? Pass.
Some festive items, such as crackers, are inherently jokey and the table would look bare without them. What I don’t like is the way the cracker has become the business model for so much other seasonal dreck. The paper crown and plastic ring have become mittens that say Jingle on one hand and Bells on the other. Reindeer headdresses for dogs. Elf suits and Christmas pudding hats for infants. It is even possible to buy the toddler version of the Mrs Santa ensemble.
It’s all so expensive, so transient, such a desperate effort to shake every last penny out of our pockets. It makes me want to give the gift of dental floss and cat litter, just to get my own back. Unlike the cracker, this joke is on us.
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