The time has come. I got out my Christmas CD a few weeks ago. It drives everybody mad that I start so early but I need to listen to each song at least 300 times before it starts to feel like Christmas. The adverts have started, all the supermarkets determined they can sell us our Christmas for the cheapest price, and the Christmas lights are going up. So I’m getting excited. I love Christmas, but as I settle down to my bruninner – breakfast, lunch and dinner all rolled into one because I can’t afford three meals a day – it occurs to me that this year I’m doing Christmas on budget.
My first problem, of course, is presents. Christmas is the time of year when random never-before-seen relatives come crawling out of the woodwork, send you a generic Christmas card and suddenly expect a present. Great-great-half-uncles-twice-removed-on-your-second-cousin’s-side send a cactus plant and you are obliged to send them something back. Singing ties were invented for this very purpose. They are the opposite of all that is practical and useful, and you can reassure yourself that they will never be worn – in other words, they comply completely with the Christmas present criteria. For everybody else, slowly introduce the idea of hugs as presents – they are most unjustly undervalued. Constant references to your tight student budget, and supporting anecdotes- such as scanning the pavements of Windsor for twenty pence, or living on soup for eight weeks, will hopefully destroy any hope in your family that this year they’re actually going to get a decent Christmas present from you.
One of the other crucial aspects of Christmas is the Christmas dinner. Again, this can be quite an expense, but there are ways of cutting the cost. Firstly, why not give up eating in the week or so leading up to Christmas? Not only will this save you money on food, which can then be saved for the big day, it will also mean that you appreciate your Christmas dinner much more when it finally comes around. Being a vegetarian, the turkey thing isn’t much of a problem for me, but if you’re really struggling to raise the cash to buy one (and they are very expensive considering they’re just fat chickens), why not ‘borrow’ one from a local farm? If you go to a free range farm there should be plenty clucking around outdoors and I’m sure the farmer wouldn’t miss one, so you could always try and lure it away with some cranberry sauce or something.
However presents and turkeys are not enough on their own – Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without the tree. It seems illogical to pay money for things such as trees considering there are, like, a billion of them growing around in fields, so if you’re tight this yuletide, why not help yourself to one straight from the wild? A few tips: firstly, if you are going to take this advice, ensure you are not standing under the tree when you cut it down. This would effectively ruin your Christmas, as you would be dead. Also, bear in mind that they are not the easiest things to hide and if you get caught dragging it away from the scene of the crime you will not be able to stick it up your jumper and pretend you’re just pregnant. I don’t actually know the official name for a Christmas tree, or where to find them other than the Christmas tree shop, so for the similarly un-botanically knowledgeable among you, settle for an ordinary tree. Start a new trend by decorating an apple tree or an oak tree in your living room this Christmas – a tree is a tree after all, and we haven’t the money to be fussy.
A homemade Christmas is actually a lot easier than it seems. Whatever the adverts say, Asda can’t offer you the cheapest festivities this year – you can. Crackers are another thing that can easily be made at home: roll up some paper, twist both ends and ask people to use their imagination and just say ‘bang’ when they pull them apart. Stockings don’t have to be hand embroidered by blind French nuns either; they can literally just be socks.
Whether you choose to cut back this Christmas or just sell a kidney and celebrate it as you always have done, remember that Christmas isn’t about the material things. We don’t live in a predominantly Christian society anymore, so I’m not going to suggest that Christmas is really about Jesus – although to many people it still is. But even for the unreligious amongst you Christmas can still mean a bit more than sherry and Santa. It’s basically a brilliant excuse. It’s an excuse to drink way too much, an excuse to eat way too much, an excuse to see family that it would otherwise be difficult to make time for, an excuse to get everybody you care about in the same overheated, turkey-smelling room, an excuse to indulge yourself and treat other people, an excuse to go on holiday, an excuse not to go to work, an excuse to have a party. To steal a few lines from ‘The Grinch who stole Christmas’ by Dr Seuss, ‘Christmas… doesn’t come from a store, Christmas perhaps means a little bit more’. You can’t buy the atmosphere that comes at Christmas – greetings and smiles cost nothing. It doesn’t matter how much money you’ve got to spend, there’s no Tesco value version of the festive spirit, and so there really is no excuse not to have a very Happy Christmas.