JJ Barnes

JJ Barnes writes about parenting, feminism, current affairs and writing

By - JJBarnes

Why I start celebrating Christmas in September…and why I don’t give a damn that it bothers you.

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A common complaint of the build up to the Christmas season is that shops get decorations and gift displays in too soon, and Christmas music plays too early. You can’t walk around the high street without hearing people gripe, social media is littered with insults against shops, and moans about early shoppers are aplenty.

But me? I love it.

Part of the reason is that I have always had to start Christmas shopping early for financial reasons. I’d love to be able to afford to do it all in December, be part of the Christmas shopping crowd going round the shops in the dark and the cold, enjoying the Christmas lights and the music, feeling the excitement in the air. But I can’t. For a long time I was an unemployed single mother, now I’m a writer (and I’m not the JK Rowling or the Joss Whedon type of writer, I’m the “would you look at the price of this cheese?!” type of writer).

If I don’t start Christmas shopping early, and when I say early I start in the January sales, then I won’t be able to afford to do it. And a lot of people would say don’t bother, if you can’t afford it just tell people and they can deal. But I genuinely love gift shopping. I love choosing things for people, I love filling in my Christmas spreadsheet (yes, I’m a nerd), and I love the wrapping marathon. I love giving people things and seeing their reactions. I love it and I don’t want to not do it, I don’t want my children to not get the chance to do it too, and so I spread the cost and shop carefully. I look for sales and bargains all year round.

Christmas gift wrapping.

It strikes me as an immense privilege if you get to complain about people Christmas shopping early. It suggests you don’t have to consider spreading the cost, maybe have never had to worry about affording gifts, so you judge those who do.

Another reason I love to start Christmas early is because I simply love it. I love the build up to Christmas. It reminds me of being a child, and now I get to see the excitement in my own children. I love the change of seasons, from the sweaty heat of Summer to the nights getting dark, the air getting cool, and the blankets coming out. I love the signs that Christmas is coming, football season starts again, Strictly Come Dancing comes on the TV, and school goes back. It all screams to me that Christmas is coming and makes me long for that festive cheer. The festive cheer that, no matter how bad I’m feeling, makes me smile.

This year I was having a hard day. It was the end of August and I was crying. I was struggling and feeling horrible and just had to cry.

I heard from the kitchen the sounds of Mariah Carey wafting from Alexa. I ran in and my man person was in there with a huge grin on his face. Christmas music has a magical effect on my psyche, and if I am down, it helps pull me up. So in August, he and I sang and danced in the kitchen to Christmas music. And now it’s September, it’s a regular feature.

What confuses people is that on Boxing Day, the day after Christmas to non-Brits, I’m finished. I usually spend my Boxing day evening taking down the decorations, packing up the tree, and getting my house back to it’s regular chaotic and cluttered state. I’ve been told that if I didn’t celebrate so early I’d want to leave my decorations up for longer.

Christmas decorations.

Maybe I would. But I don’t want to. After Christmas day I’ve had my fill. It’s the build up to the day I enjoy most, so that’s what I choose to celebrate. And where I choose to focus my energy because it’s what makes me happiest. And my family are in for it too. The day after Boxing Day the kids come down and they’ve got their new gifts and space to enjoy them, because our house is only small and after a while too many decorations feels claustrophobic and gets in the way of their playing. So they don’t mind that they’re gone, and they’re sure glad to enjoy it all early.

Also I remember growing up. My mother is firmly of the no Christmas until December opinion, and her decorations stay up until after New Years Eve. That was the norm for me for the many years of my life I lived at home, but I still felt this way, I still craved normality from Boxing Day. I just got less time to celebrate the season because it had to start so much later.

Christmas Eve is my favourite day of the year. It’s like the culmination of the months of build up I’ve been enjoying. It’s what it’s all been leading to. We put out gifts, we tuck eagerly excited children into bed, we drink Baileys and watch Die Hard, surrounded by twinkly lights and sparkling decorations. It’s perfect and it’s magical. Christmas Day itself is hard. There’s family to balance, trying to make sure nobody gets left out, there are feuds to navigate, ensuring you offer the appropriate amount of time to different warring factions without mixing them together. There’s a lot of moving around and a lot of performance. I find Christmas Day to be draining. So when it’s over I can breathe a sigh of relief. But Christmas Eve? Christmas Eve is ours, it’s time to focus on the kids and the excitement and the fun. Even now at 33 I get bubbles of excitement in my tummy, there’s magic in the air.

The build up to Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year, and I get as much out of it as I can. I’m used to people complaining and criticising, but I won’t stop. I’m not forcing anyone else to do the same, I don’t force Christmas music into anyone else’s house in September, and I don’t rip anyone else’s decorations down on Boxing Day. In our house we do Christmas our way, and we love it. It’s fun, it’s exciting, and if you begrudge us that pleasure because it’s not how you choose to do it? Well, maybe you’ll get coal this year.

Books by JJ Barnes
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