Articles - 16th December 2019

The Gifts of the Magi

Words by Elinor Potts
Illustration by Oscar Price

As King Elvis prophesied in his 1964 crooning canticle, it looks like we’re having a Blue Christmas after all. Politics is the Dickensian spectre of this festive season, loitering in our gullets like an undigested bit of beef or a fragment of underdone potato. To make matters worse, Boris Johnson’s present to the nation of “Getting Brexit Done” is more ungratefully received by half of the population than the laminator I was gifted in December 2008. Laminators at least come with gift receipts and can be re-sold on eBay for a reasonable proportion of their retail value. The same cannot be said for Hard Brexits.

So, I decided I had to wash away all my sorrows. In the company of London’s finest freelancers, I danced away my Friday night sadness at UnderPinned’s Christmas Party whilst Virgin Xtravaganza sermoned consolatory pep talks to her disciples before serving sexed-up Christmas classics, i.e. ‘Rudolph the Red Arsed Reindeer’ and ‘Satan Daddy’. In the spirit of Zoe Leonnard’s 1992 poem ‘I Want A President’, this Christmas, I’d like a Drag Queen for PM.

Downtrodden as we might be, generosity and empathy prevail. As The Guardian reported last week, donations to food banks and charities including the Trussell Trust, Shelter, Refuge and the Biscuit Fund have surged by 52% since Thursday’s Conservative victory. 2019 has felt the rumblings of a growing movement, with waves of Extinction Rebellion’s eco-consciousness activists rippling out to the plastic-savvy middle-class consumers, questioning the ecological effects of their everyday. But eco-ethics are for life, as well as for Christmas.

Alicia, the mastermind behind the 70s inspired Instagram page @sauver__, uses her platform to promote everything from smear tests to charity shop Christmases. “The idea of charity shop Christmas actually started one Christmas Day,” She tells me, “My family and I had gorged ourselves on gifts and we all agreed that the magic had gone and for us, it didn’t sit right anymore.”

Whilst the idea initially started amongst her immediate family, the tradition has now expanded to include her extended family and friends in the sustainable gift exchange. For those considering trialling their own charity shop Christmas, the key to success is starting small and giving yourself sufficient time. “Hampers, picnic baskets, scarfs and boxes are great alternatives to wrapping paper and also makeup part of the gift,” says Alicia, “You find some pretty weird and wonderful gifts for people and once you get into the swing of it it’s so simple. Ultimately, the presents you buy people have more thought to them, it’s better for the environment and the charities benefit.”

If you’re in the market for mixing up the festive cultural routines of The Radio Times, prawn rings, snowballs and reruns of Mrs Brown’s Boys, you might want to consider appropriating the Icelandic tradition of ‘Jolabokaflod’. The occasion, which translates as ‘The Christmas Book Flood’ began during the Second World War when paper was one of few unrationed commodities. Before the annual floodgates of yuletide Icelandic literature open, islanders receive their seasonal catalogue Bokatidini, with tips and suggestions of recent book publications before exchanging their gifts on Christmas Eve. Speaking as someone who already treats every goddamn day of the year as Jolabokaflod in my obsessive habitual accumulation of books, I have tentatively tried to introduce the tradition (with varying success) to my own family’s non-cultural schedule of falling asleep on the sofa and absentmindedly carbonising potatoes. 

When the big day is out of the way and you’re seeking for a post-yule bawl – give your close friends and family the gift of publicly humiliating puffed red faces, with a trip to Greta Gerwig’s adaptation of the great American classic, Little Women screening in cinemas from the 26th December. With the exception of Emma Watson’s wandering accent, the film is impeccably cast. Saoirse Ronan takes the lead as the stroppy, hot-headed Jo, Florence Pugh plays Caroline Calloway dead-ringer Amy, Laura Dern plays Marmie, Meryl Streep is mean Aunt March, Eliza Scanlen is a demure Beth and achingly beautiful Timothée Chalamet carries 1994 Christian Bale’s baton from in the role of Laurie.

Moving between the dimly lit attics of the March home where the sisters host their pipe-puffing Gentleman’s club, to New York and sprawling countryside, vast beaches and frozen lakes which separate the two spheres, the film is affectionately composed. Little Women is an emotional deep dive into the depths of sisterly love, sparingly scattering Gerwiggian nods to the director’s mumblecore heritage with a joyfully postmodern interpretation of the book’s conclusion.

But, however you choose to spend this holiday, may your winters be warm and your stockings be stuffed with cultural favours.

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