My kids’ dad has a rule that nobody can discuss Christmas until his birthday has passed at the end of November. It has a folkloric inarguability, like “ne’er cast a clout till May is out”, except it is much more strictly observed. Nobody really knows what casting a clout means, and everybody knows what discussing Christmas sounds like. I think the kids might have some residual fear from early childhood that a breach will result in the cancellation of Christmas; my daughter cleaves to it so closely that she gets the heebie-jeebies even when her friends start talking about the festive season too early, and I always wonder, should I explain how this works? That not everyone’s dad is born on 21 November? Or would that be considered patronising, her being 12?
Christmas preparations are often dressed up as a question of what is classy, where in fact it is an issue of class with a side-order of gender. The most elegant MO is to affect not to notice it’s happening at all, to wander round town going “why is everyone so drunk?”, to roll your eyes at the fake holly festooning the supermarkets, to affect disgust at the choral muzak, until 18 December, when you will finally acknowledge that the arrival of the Christ child is almost upon us. To pull this off, however, you need both money and leisure in considerable quantities; you’ll have done nothing to spread the cost of the event, and you have only seven short days to do a month’s emotional labour, which, even if you don’t have a job, is not enough. It might just work if you have a wife, but then it doesn’t count.
So, to spread the many burdens manageably, you really want to start in late September, but then you’ll crash into Halloween, and you’ll also have eaten all the tiny Toblerones you bought as stocking fillers by 1 November. Ideally, you want to realise it’s nearly Christmas shortly after WH Smith does – for they have been the hallmark of the unclassy, since the decline of Hallmark – but before Lidl takes delivery of its mini panettones, otherwise you’ll definitely miss them. Round about now, in other words. So maybe my kids are right.