First Draft‘s producer Abi Hynes blogs about Christmas and turning twenty-six.
So – as you may have already noticed – the festive season is bearing down heavily upon us. It’s full of that vaguely threatening commercialised cheerfulness that turns otherwise sane friends, colleagues and family members into the sort of people who slavishly cling to traditions that have made them significantly poorer and less happy since childhood, and are willing to apply an extraordinary amount of peer pressure/emotional blackmail in order to make sure you do the same.
(‘Oh, you’re not sending Christmas cards this year? It just really shows you care, though, doesn’t it? I mean – people get really offended about that sort of thing…’ DIE CHRISTMAS BITCH DIE.)
I’m not exempting myself from this mania. Here is a (heavily edited) excerpt of the list of things that I will personally be doing this Christmas that I actually really don’t want to do:
- buying Christmas presents
- wrapping Christmas presents
- eating turkey
- discussing the purchasing of other people’s Christmas presents
- driving across the Pennines instead of drinking my weight in sherry on Christmas Day
- looking at pictures of Christmas presents people have bought for other people
- saying ‘Me too!’ when someone says, ‘I hope it snows’ (FUCK SNOW)
- receiving Christmas presents and having to make the ‘I’m receiving a Christmas present’ face
Now, that all sounds a bit grinch-like, I know. Admittedly, nearly everything on the list above is something I will do in order to please someone I love, which – setting aside the evil, manipulative nature of the season overall – is not necessarily a bad thing. My discomfort with them is something I live with for the greater good. Nevertheless, up until about two years ago, if you’d asked, I’d have said that I was a pretty pro-Christmas person. And no – not because of the whole celebrating-the-wonder-baby-born-in-a-barn-although-not-on-25th-December-because-that-date-was-just-decided-on-by-committee thing. Rather, I’ve always been fond of it because (since 1988, anyway) it has always been pleasingly foreshadowed ten days earlier by a less culturally significant and historically/theologically suspect birthday. Mine.
And it’s today, as it happens. What an astonishing coincidence.
And here’s the thing. My birthdays used to be awesome. It’s a good time of year to have a birthday, really: when everyone’s slowing down and getting fat and is perpetually at least a little bit drunk. More than that – while lights are being strung up and halls are being decked and choirs of schoolchildren are blatantly singing the rude words to ‘In the bleak midwinter’ right under the furious gaze of terrifying music teachers – my birthday always had this special sort of glow to it. It kind of felt, you know, like all this preparation and festive spirit was… really… sort of… for me.
Precocious, yes. But fear not, this lovingly-raised, comparatively privileged, self-important eldest child turned twenty-five this time last year, and she came down to earth with a big fuck-off bump.
See – people talk about a ‘quarter-life crisis’ and you think ‘Pah! How ridiculous!’. Or I did, anyway. But then I, um… kind of went and had one. It looked a bit like this:
And it was – well – really crap. But I thought that once the dust had settled, it would stay that way. I was wrong, and, here we are a year later, and I’m freaking out. Again.
And yes, I know. Age is just a number. And anyway, twenty-six is not an age to get upset about. If twenty-six is this bad, how am I going to deal with forty? Get a grip love. Get some perspective. You can’t really be silly and self-absorbed enough to worry about getting one measly year older, can you?
Well. Yes, as it turns out. Who knew? I’m vain and shallow and egotistical enough for twenty-six to feel like… well, pretty much the end of the world.
And I think the cause is… lots of things. It’s human stuff: awareness of mortality, weight of responsibility. It’s female stuff: terror of feeling older and less attractive. It’s first world problems stuff: the widening gulf between the things I imagined I’d have achieved by now and the life I’m really living. Some of these are wrong and society should fix them. Some of them are just part of the deal – so suck it up.
I’m afraid I don’t have a satisfyingly chirpy solution to round off this blog with. But I do think that our traditions should be kinder. The pressure on groups and individuals on designated dates like birthdays, Christmas, Valentine’s Day etc to fit into a pre-packaged and socially acceptable version of unblemished joyfulness is not kind to or respectful of the human condition. These occasions command us to put our sorrows and anxieties aside and summon up a smoother version of ourselves, but this isn’t how people or relationships really work. For what it’s worth – I’d rather we all invite our troubles in this Christmas, out of the cold, to join us at the table and warm themselves a while.
And I think, ultimately, I just wanted to share this lonely feeling of finally-dawning adulthood; of casting about desperately for a set of footprints to step your own feet into, and seeing nothing but a white canvas of snow. And knowing that – very soon – I will have to set out on it.
For what it’s worth – here’s my next poetic attempt to capture some of what my birthday feels like…
There was a time I held a fragile thing,
It moved and breathed and laughed and sniffed the air,
Its tenderness was all that held it there,
Its promise light and little on my skin.
So now I watch it groan and yawn with life
That’s grown too heavy for its tiny frame,
That’s gorged and swollen; though it seems the same,
It’s sharper now and holds me like a knife.
It bites my bones and wishes me untasted,
As I feed it with the prayers that I’ve outgrown;
The bells that chime sound stranger every day.
I know the time I held it has been wasted;
No confession can now shrink the seeds I’ve sown,
No soft blessings with the dying of the day.
If you made it this far…
Abi will performing along with the rest of our talented line up at First Draft’s Heathens’ Christmas Party event, TONIGHT at The Castle Hotel