“What are you doing for Christmas?” For at least two months of the year this question replaces the great British preoccupation with the weather. Guaranteed to break the ice with anyone and always eliciting a response – by mid-December we all have a stock answer up the sleeve of our Christmas jumper. But is the question overused? Are we in danger of not giving a damn about the answer? Even my hairdresser told me she was fed up with hearing it and she’s in a profession where you must by necessity be master of the repetitive question. You’d have thought it would make a pleasant change from hearing about summer holiday plans. Not so.
Why are we interested in what other people are doing for Christmas? It rarely impacts on our own plans. It’s guaranteed they will be at home or visiting relatives. I can’t recall anyone ever throwing a curveball and announcing that they’ve renounced Christmas and will be spending it in the sweatshops of the North Pole liberating elves. Now that would be an answer I’d remember. When you’ve asked a question a thousand times you start to stop hearing the answer. When you’ve answered the question a thousand times you start forgetting who you’ve told, which is good because I guarantee the person asking you will have asked you before and will have forgotten what you said anyway. If you see a flash of recognition in their eyes that will simply be them switching to autopilot and wondering whether they’ve bought any crackers yet.
When you’re prying into someone’s personal life then there is of course an element of voyeurism. Are they planning to have a bigger turkey than you? Have they made their own centrepiece for the Christmas Day table? Was it them that bought the last folding chairs from Homebase to seat their vast family who are flying in from all around the world because they put on such a darned good Christmas? Yes, there is the danger that in asking “What are you doing for Christmas?” you will start to dwell on your own inadequacies. Perhaps your own lack of family traditions will come to light. Your failure to plan to spend all Christmas Eve bent over a mixing bowl so that your kids will have a full-sized gingerbread house in the morning will be exposed. Maybe you will feel like a bad parent. Oh to hell with it. Pour yourself another glass of mulled wine and ask them whether they’ve got any plans for the summer holidays.
Merry Christmas and a little bit of Bah Humbug to you!