Here’s a list of London events my family will be missing out on this festive season: walking under a hypnotic canopy of lights at Kew Gardens; mumbling our way through Christmas carols alongside an orchestra at the Royal Albert Hall; watching Clara defeat the Mouse King with a well-timed hurl of her slipper. No, we won’t watch her take aim at the London Coliseum with the English National Ballet, nor will we be at the Royal Opera House when she vanquishes The Nutcracker’s murine foe.
It’s not for any lack of Christmas spirit. I bleed tinsel! You, a regular human being, may be 60 per cent water, but I, due to an ill-timed Crimbo pregnancy, am 60 per cent Nozeco cocktails and mulled The Very Cautious One shiraz. My heart beats to the hectic rhythm of “Jingle Bells” (Sinatra’s version).
Neither am I a miserly Scrooge when it comes to festive budgeting, though I get the sense the cost of Christmas has outpaced inflation. Far be it from me to let the £39.50 ticket price for a three-year-old to wander Blenheim Palace’s “illuminated trail” dampen my yuletide gay (not to mention the additional £60 it would cost for her to be accompanied by an adult). Another tenner for parking? Galling! Christmas must turn a profit, too, I guess.
No, the reason my toddler will not sit on Santa’s creepy, well-worn knee at any of his various public grottos – not the Natural History Museum, not London Zoo, not even when he’s in his weird Victorian Santa form at the Docklands Museum – is because Christmas in London requires more than just spirit and a credit card. It requires a personal assistant.
Only a week after Kew tickets dropped, the supposedly “unmissable opportunity to herald the start of Christmas” was booked through New Year’s Eve. When I went online to schedule an audience with a nearby Santa, five minutes after the site went live, I was invited to join the wait list. And it turns out you can’t StubHub your way to Santa, either, which effectively makes a ticket to the grotto harder to score than a ticket to Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour.
Even the Chelsea Physic Garden Christmas Fair – an event that caters to septuagenarian women with a taste for antique cutlery and block-printed tea towels – was sold out on the rainy, frigid morning my family decided to go. We squeaked in at the door, which was operating a strict one-in, one-out policy, thereby replacing Raffles as Chelsea’s hottest nightclub. Getting into university was easier.
I doubt the tree will last until Christmas, which is just as well because the extension leads required to light it have formed a hazardous web. All I want for Christmas this year is sockets
My daughter just started nursery this September, where the idea of Santa Claus and his sack of toys is as infectious as lurgy and the sounds of “Baby Shark”. Like a good mother, I told her I’d never heard of the latter – “it must be a special song that only plays at school”. But I cannot deny the small girl Santa. So I felt compelled to furnish her the perfect Christmas – the first one she has any chance of remembering. So far, it’s been much harder than my parents ever made it look.
For example, how did my father buy a Christmas tree so effortlessly? He’d pile us kids in the car and drive to the farm. We’d take a hay ride and drink hot chocolate and watch the majestic Fraser fir get felled. Meanwhile, the egg-shaped Nordmann I bought from a charlatan hawking dead trees at the church up the road didn’t fit in the first two stands I bought for it. It’s finally standing – precariously perched in a very festive black plastic contractor’s bucket from Robert Dyas – but because I didn’t insist the guy trim the tree’s base before my partner and I dragged it half a kilometre home, it’s refusing to drink water. At least once a night I wake up to the sound of a bauble slipping from its sad, droopy branches.
I doubt the tree will last until Christmas, which is just as well because the extension leads required to light it have formed a hazardous web. If you’re imagining the laser field that guards the precious diamond in a heist movie, then you have a decent idea of what it feels like to be in my sitting room right now. All I want for Christmas is sockets.
Still, in spite of the fact that several of the non-plastic trinkets I bought don’t fit inside the holes of the gorgeous reusable advent calendar I also bought, I persevere. If Kew won’t have me, I’ll drive two and a half hours to a farm park in the Cotswolds (apparently). And honestly, who needs an orchestra when the Treblemakers – an a capella women’s choir my family stumbled across at the local tree lighting – are so talented and charming. My three-year-old doesn’t know the difference between a concert hall and a makeshift stage outside Wetherspoon’s. And I did manage to snag tix to a live production of The Gruffalo’s Child (“the perfect festive treat”), a story I confess she’s much more familiar with than the Nativity play.
Recently, I called my own mother to complain about how hard it was to be Santa when really I’d still rather be Clara, waiting for my godfather to show up with exquisite presents. (Incidentally – and this is a whole separate saga – because of my own relentless pushing of the Christmas agenda, a functional nutcracker, which is not to be confused with a lovely decorative nutcracker, is the gift my daughter says she’d like from Santa. So please drop word in the comments if you happen to be heading to Germany in the next few weeks.)
Over the phone, my mom reminded me that we only went to that tree farm once or twice. It was cold, and my siblings and I complained. The tree was also expensive and threatened to slip from the roof of the car on the drive home. Usually, she explained, we just bought our tree from a guy in the supermarket car park.
And she also pointed out that the only Nutcracker I’ve ever seen is the Macaulay Culkin film, and I always liked my Christmases despite this. Because, for a small girl swimming in the mirage of Santa, the holiday season isn’t about cultural touchstones or immersive, environmentally hostile light displays. It’s not even about a December brimming with mince pies and family togetherness.
For my sweet, innocent, unjaded girl, Christmas is about presents.