Do stay for tea and coffee: ‘I tucked into 200 mince pies and three gallons of mulled wine’
A good-as-possible Christmas with Paul Kerensa
Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without – what?
Presents, according to the book Little Women. The Radio Times, according to the ad campaign for, well, Radio Times. An annual viewing of Die Hard, according to my friend Claire (my friend Jon prefers Elf, my friend Jennifer reckons Love Actually – they’re all wrong, it’s The Great Escape).
For others it’s the lights switch-on, a carol service, a theatre or shopping trip.
But throw in a pandemic and a few supply issues, and our chain of traditions becomes more like a paper chain. The longer it gets, the wobblier it gets, and before you know it it’s fallen apart.
Christmas 2020 looked rather different to 2019’s, didn’t it? Our Christmas Day family feast was certainly a lot smaller – no need to extend the table as we celebrated with our family of four, and the rest on Facetime.
We made it to a carol service, outside, even chillier than the usual church interior. I missed the panto. Oh yes I did. And I longed for clutching a mulled wine around a German market – not in Germany, of course. Birmingham or Winchester have stood in previously, and will again.
So many of our Christmas customs involve gathering. For my own part, I stage ‘Comedy and Carols’ shows each December – so last year they moved online. I Zoomed, I Youtubed, I was Facebook-Livid. At one event, I turned up to the church where there was no audience but a film crew of two, who streamed the show to ticket-holders at home. It was odd, empty seats in front of me, the entire audience on their sofas on a screen. Meanwhile I tucked into 200 mince pies and three gallons of mulled wine – no one cancelled the interval order.
This year I’m delightfully performing in person, but with a few online events too. We gather where we can, but it’s good that a little livestreaming continues. Some can’t get to venues: housebound, self-isolating or sensibly cautious.
But there’s a craving to gather in midwinter, ever since pre-Christian days in Norse Yule, when it was all food-sharing, song-singing and huddling around the fire. Our ancestors even dressed up in animal masks for a bit of a song and dance – so if you’re wearing a mask this festive season, that’s another longstanding tradition you’re carrying on.
The first Nowell was all about gathering too, to pay tribute and worship. Thankfully no pandemic interrupted the Nativity; King Herod put enough restrictions on them already. Had it happened today, Mary and Joseph might find plenty of room at the inn, due to cancellations in the hospitality sector. Shepherds with sanitised hands might enter through a one-way system. The wise men may not make it due to the travel red list. They may have to quarantine their gold and frankincense, with apologies for the lack of myrrh due to supply chain issues.
Gladly for us, God didn’t remain socially distanced then, and he isn’t now.
Perhaps we’re slowly learning that Christmas is still Christmas without the trappings we’ve grown used to, the gifts we’ve given ourselves. If you’re worried about a turkey shortage or a cancelled Christmas concert, it is frustrating that a good-as-possible Christmas will have to make do. But as last year, Christmas will still be Christmas without them. Christmas is made of bigger stuff, and Christ, bigger still.
Whether you’ll be home for Christmas, or if you’re dreaming of the ones we used to know, have yourself a merry little one. And if I turn up to an audience-less show again, I’ll raise a gallon of mulled wine to you.
Paul Kerensa is a comedian, broadcaster and author of Hark! The biography of Christmas published by Lion Hudson
This article was published in the December 2021/January 2022 edition of Reform