Emma Cowing: Five steps for a sane Christmas

Picture: Getty
Picture: Getty
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I WOULD happily agree to major root canal surgery if it meant I didn’t have to go Christmas shopping this year. The materialism; the faux bonhomie; the endless Cliff Richard songs.

I’m losing the will to live just thinking about it. But it has to be done. Here then, is my guide to getting your Christmas shopping done without losing your sanity.

• Don’t buy online. Unless you placed your gift orders in July 2012 and ticked the box that promised your package would be hand delivered by the angel Gabriel by 5pm on 24 December – or you particularly want to spend every morning between now and Christmas gnawing your own arm off in an anxious wait for the mail.

When it finally does arrive, the chances are you will be out, the only trace of your package a perky note from the postman informing you to wait 431 hours before collecting it from a distribution centre down a one-way, double-yellowed side street just off the fourth circle of Hell.

When you get there, you will have to stand in a queue with tens of other similarly anxious, sleep-deprived people only to be handed a mouldy looking package containing not the box set of Breaking Bad you ordered for your brother-in-law, but Breaking Dawn – part two of the Twilight Saga.

• Get it done on a week day. This is non-negotiable. Sneak out the office at lunch time. Feign a seasonal flu. Kill off an elderly family pet and say you need some time “to grieve”. The shops are hideous every day of the week at this time of year, but if you go on a Wednesday, keep your head down and take shallow breaths, there is a chance you might just get out with all four of your limbs intact. Do your shopping at the weekend, however, and there is a seriously possibility you may never see your family again. Which might just put a damper on festivities.

• Be nice to the staff. Look, if it’s miserable standing in a queue at Marks & Spencer for 25 minutes listening to the couple behind you argue over whether or not a cowprint onesie with the words “Totes awkward” emblazoned over the chest is an acceptable gift for a 95-year-old, can you imagine how hideous it must be for those poor souls who have to stand behind counters? Hour after hour of dealing with grumpy shoppers who have decided the queue length is entirely your fault and have long since forgotten that the words “thank you” ever existed in the English lexicon.

Oh, I know they get paid to work – and they probably get overtime on the busiest of days, but still. Just an hour of Christmas shopping makes me want to spend the rest of the festive season in an isolation tank with John Cage’s 4’33 on repeat. So, be nice to the person you’re buying your gifts from.

• Be polite to other shoppers. Or at least politely impolite. Leaving a department store the other day, I held a door open for a woman who promptly marched past without acknowledging me. “You’re welcome!” I sang out brightly, following it up with a dazzling smile. She did at least have the grace to look sheepish.

I don’t know what happens to people’s manners when they go Christmas shopping. There almost seems to be a certain pride in just how aggressive some people can be when it comes to fighting over the last Barbie Dreamhouse in the shop.

Show them up for the graceless buffoons they are, however, and you might just embarrass them into acting vaguely like the human beings they once presumably were.

• Remember why you’re doing all this, and who you’re doing it for. Christmas these days has taken on the exhausting, faintly depressive feel of one of those US reality TV shows that never seems to be taken off the air and features a lot of people who talk constantly about money.

Christmas now starts in October. It lasts until January. It dominates every conversation, TV schedule and social occasion in between. It’s almost enough to make you want to go and live on that island in the South Pacific where they worship the Duke of Edinburgh as a god.

But there is a reason why we put ourselves through the sweaty, lurching crowds, fighting it out for that last bottle of Drakkar Noir or the X Box One 365 499 (appendix B), and that reason is the people we love. Giving presents is still a kind and generous thing to do. And because somewhere, someone else is going through exactly the same thing for you.