The Ghosts of Christmas Past
We all moan about Christmas stuff appearing in some shops in August, but what about the irrepressible afterlife of Christmas? This has nothing to do with venal commercialism and everything to do with overcatering, indolence and domestic blindness.
The boomerang turkey that keeps coming back in cold cuts, sandwiches, curry, soup, etc. is just the start of it, and by the end it has outstayed its welcome. Not so the Christmas pudding, which this year didn’t reverberate long enough for my liking, chiefly because I gave a large part of it away, together with enough brandy butter to go with it. It is a great consolation at the end of a bleak January day to have a slice of Christmas pudding fried in butter just long enough to make the edges slightly crunchy, with brandy butter melting on it (yes, it’s essentially a butterfest). Then, when the brandy butter runs out, which it invariably does before you’ve finished the pudding, you can just blitz the pudding to crumbs, stir them into softened vanilla ice cream, and refreeze it. Voila – a sort of rum and raisin ice cream with knobs on that in theory could last you until spring, though ours never gets that far.
To get round the problem of the revenant turkey now that there are no longer so many of us round the table at Christmas, we have taken to eating goose instead. What this means is that, quite apart from the deliciousness of the goose itself, you are left with goose fat in which to cook your roasties for months to come – twelve months, if you’re lucky, with Christmas coming round again just as you are scraping the last of the previous year’s fat out of the tub.
Sometimes the festivities themselves resurface long after 25 December. When my sister worked antisocial shifts it often proved impossible to get together for weeks and months. I think our most postponed Christmas took place in May, in an alcove at a country pub that she had been allowed to decorate with balloons and paperchains. Onlookers were rather bemused at the sight of us all in our paper crowns, surrounded by wrapping paper.
Then there are all the inadvertent signs of Christmas overlooked in the big Twelfth Night clear-up: the present so tiny it fell out of a the tree and was discovered three weeks later under a chair; the stash of cards to be handed over in person, but by some mischance you didn’t actually get to see them before Christmas. (More worrying are the presents you failed to hand over for the same reason; you put them away for next year, but on re-examination they prove to be completely unsuitable.) You take all these things in your stride at home, but I think they’re a bit dispiriting in the public sphere. The demise of our local deli was foretold in the Christmas displays that remained on the shelf all year round. How could you be sure that the panettone that looked so appealing had not been up there since time immemorial?
The afterlife of the poinsettia, though, is hugely unpredictable: I’ve had one that still looked fabulous at Easter, and others that ended up as twigs with a few stray leaves and petals on them by Christmas Eve. But the survivors I resent the most are the nuts, mostly because they are testament to my ludicrous devotion to tradition. Every year I dutifully buy a mixed bag. We eat all the walnuts and pecans, and the rest loiter in a bowl until July. Anyone for a hazelnut?