A lesson on Christmas traditions

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Picture me aged 3. I’m making a snowman from cotton wool and toilet roll. I proudly present snowman to Mum and Dad when I get home from playgroup, and then again the following Christmas when he emerges from a dusty box of decorations. And just like that, a tradition is born. Snowman is a running family joke every Christmas, with his green fez and droopy eyes. Every year, he reminds us how much we’ve grown, what’s changed and what will never change. He represents the purest kind of innocence and he is protected and preserved the way we wish we could preserve time. He is a fond memory, and yet he is still there for us to touch, display and laugh at every year.

Well, he was there. This year, 23 years later, something quite terrible happened. This year, my dog ATE SNOWMAN. And I cried. And so did my mum. My mum and I cried over a small pile of cotton wool and toilet roll.

Admittedly, a part of me felt like Christmas would never be the same again. That silly tradition of unveiling snowman every year was gone. Which is ridiculous because the sentiment lives on regardless – I’d still have the memory without the physical reminder. Perhaps what we’re really afraid of is forgetting the small things; the forgettable things that are actually quite lovely to keep safe. After all, the moment an object jogs a memory (that might otherwise have been lost forever) is far too wonderful not to protect.

But still, why the hell do we want Christmas to be the same every single year? What is our relentless obsession with reliving the past?

After a couple of hours grieving over poor old snowman, I started to think about the impact personal traditions can have on our ability to cope with change and embrace the unknown. The truth is, there have been some big changes in my life this year, and seeing snowman in little pieces was like a visual reminder that my life, like most people’s, is subject to uncontrollable change and unplanned disruption. Shit happens, basically.

My mum and I were faced with two choices: a) to feel extremely sorry for ourselves, or b) make a bigger, better snowman, rebuilding him and adding to the story he represents. Our story. Which is of course guided by the way we respond to the unplanned. Sometimes all we can do is laugh and carry on.

We become so dependant on our traditions for things to feel ‘right’ that we often forget the bigger picture or fear life without them. Wrongly or rightly, we assign a great deal of profound emotion to the most useless physical objects or rituals. Cut yourself loose and you’ll be surprised how well you cope on the other side.

Christmas also has a tendency to make us EVEN MORE dependant on material things. We feel like we’re being sentimental, when in reality most of the sentiment is just another dose of consumerism in disguise. I mean, what is the point in crackers? Sure it’s ‘tradition’ but isn’t it also a royal waist of money? I love Christmas as much as the next person, but it does a bloody good job of distorting our perception of things. We run the risk of doing the same things over and over and over again, without pausing to stop and think about why. Christmas is a prime example of our susceptibility  to finding security in nostalgia  which is no way to live in the long term.

The lesson? Take Christmas and all your traditions with the biggest pinch of salt you can afford, take the pressure off yourself and remember what’s important. Shared traditions are a big part of celebrating a certain culture, but having the ability to break free from them when necessary is essential for culture (and your own sanity), too.

Lesson 13: getting drunk

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When we’re blessed with not one, but TWO bank holidays, this often only means one crucial thing – lots of time to drink lots of alcohol. We’ve all been there, going out on that particular Thursday purely because we can get horrendously and unashamedly drunk without the worry of dragging ourselves to work the next day. My issue isn’t with our excited urge to embrace some well-deserved time off, it’s with the fact that so many of us do so by getting so very drunk. We live in a culture where that’s ok. More than ok, it’s completely and utterly the normal thing to do. Anyone who doesn’t drink is deemed a bit weird. But why?

Our drinking culture says as much about modern society as it does our individual personalities. It defines us more than we care to realise. We are judged not only on how often we drink, but also by what we drink. From age to class to gender to sexual orientation, stereotypes are rife: Malibu and WKD for teens, cider and VKs for students, pints of beer for the manly men and the women who like a drink, G&Ts for those who like to think they’re sophisticated, Whiskey and ginger for the hipsters, rum and coke for the cool kids, vodka for the all-rounder, rosé wine for the dolled-up blondes, white wine for the classy brunettes, red wine for the grown-up couples, cocktails for the attention seeker, champagne for the ballers. You get the gist.

I fall into four categories: beer, gin, red wine and champagne, which means that I like a drink, I like to feel sophisticated and I’ll always take the fanciest thing going.  There is a conflict going on here: my urge to drink more than I probably should and my desire to look good doing it. I’ve accidentally set myself an impossible task, which is probably why, nine times out of ten, I wake up feeling like my night didn’t quite go to plan.

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If you list everything you associate with a big night, you’ll find that, initially, most things are fairly negative:

Falling over and waking up with mysterious bruises

Losing your phone/wallet/keys/dignity

Ruining your shoes/dress/chances of getting lucky

Not remembering your favourite DJ/band playing

Kissing someone you definitely shouldn’t

Throwing up/passing out/falling asleep at the table

Eating terrible food and undoing all your hard work

Oversleeping the next day/calling in sick to work

Incriminating photos being taken/arguments with friends

Generally embarrassing yourself and being an idiot

A lot of the time we wake up the next day feeling sick, guilty and annoyed with ourselves, and yet we keep on doing it. When you think about all the positive things however, it’s easy to see why:

Relieving stress and being less uptight

Taking your mind off things

Laughing so much you cry

Bonding with work friends

Reuniting with old friends

Making some of your happiest memories

Having fun and pretending you’re younger than you are

Feeling carefree for a few precious hours

Having the confidence to do things you wouldn’t usually do

Hearing your favourite song and just being in that moment

Dancing like nothing else in the world matters

Simply forgetting all the bad stuff

When we get it right, the good things far outweigh the bad. A night out can be an uplifting, positive, memorable thing. The stuff that dreams are made of. The thing that reminds us that it’s ok not to take ourselves too seriously. That moment when you actually don’t care and are just laughing and dancing and hugging your mates. The only thing is; we all seem to think that practice makes perfect, and have dedicated our social lives to mastering the unattainable task of having the best time, every time, doing it more and more and more, until we’re well and truly addicted to the gamble.

Alcohol is addictive. Plain and simple. From the post-work glass of wine to the tenth Jager bomb of the night. As well as the fact it helps us define the sort of people we are, we are addicted to how it makes us feel, the fun we associate it with and the contextual markers it gives us: cocktail says ‘I’m on holiday’, champagne says ‘let’s celebrate’, mulled wine says ‘it’s Christmas’, tequila says ‘let’s party’. As a nation, we are incredibly dependant on these markers and definitions. Ignoring them by not drinking is like ignoring the rules. It’s ingrained. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – these unwritten rules remind us of what’s acceptable. For example, when we see someone drinking whisky in the morning we don’t think ‘LAD!’ We think, how fucking awful.

The two most important things to think about are a) the reasons why you drink and b) whether drinking brings out the best in you. Only you know your individual relationship with alcohol. Take some time to assess it and the role it plays in your life. Weigh up the good and bad and if you find some sort of imbalance, take the time to address it.

It’s ok to love going to raves, festivals, gigs, clubs, bars, pubs. I know I do. Some of my funniest, most incredible memories belong there, and that’s the most important thing: drinking to remember, not to forget. I met the love of my life at a party and was too drunk to even talk to him. Luckily for me, our paths crossed a year later, we bumped into each other at a festival and clicked instantly. It’s simple really – quite often, the more you drink, the higher the chance of ruining your night (and your chances of something amazing happening). I know it’s hard when you’re in the moment, or if you’re having a hard time, but if you can control how much you drink then you’re one step closer to being the best version of yourself you can be.

Have fun this Easter – go wild, let go and be the life and soul of the party – just try to do it without being too drunk to remember how great it was…