You tick them off the list: tree, food, cards, presents… You are doing your level best to get into the mood, whether through crooners or candles. But what of the Christmas outing?
Just what is a Christmas outing anyway? A trip that helps build the mood for you and your family? Or another reason to dig deep into your wallet?
A pantomime may be the classic answer. (I’ll deal with this one separately.) But it could be other things: a walk in the snow. A trip to the big city to see the Christmas lights. A carol concert – or a Salvation Army band playing in the street.
You get the picture.
Opinions are divided. You don’t need to be the designated Scrooge to recognise that there are lots of demands on the family purse in December. So how important is a Christmas outing, in the grand scheme of things?
I don’t really remember Christmas outings in the past – family ones, that is. But a few aspects had the feel of a Christmas outing, even if they weren’t designated as such.
When we lived close to a Forestry Commission site which sold Christmas trees, the trip to get the tree was something special.
You weren’t exactly heading into the woods, axe in hand, as you can (legally) do in various places (usually abroad).But it was closer to it: the cold, the proximity to nature.
The pine sap was easy to spot. Wellies, hats, big coats. The impossible excitement (at eight) of those machines you throw a tree into, where it comes out at the other side, bagged like Christmas satsumas. (Just not in orange.)
It was a preparation you made together – including the low-level bickering over appropriate size and shape of tree. (No one said a Christmas outing had to be entirely amicable.)
Others are more incidental. You’re out with others, and you have a quick ‘moment’ between shops, hearing a brass band, catching sight of a choir in the middle of a shopping centre. You share that little shiver: that awareness of Christmas, the chill and the warmth together.
Sometimes we seek these out – they may not even cost us anything. Attending an evening when the Christmas lights are turned on. Walking past window displays on a late night shopping evening, hitching a ride on the mood of the crowd.
It depends how we’re doing in the run up to Christmas. Sometimes the outing is better because there are fewer strings attached: no to do list, other than to turn up, to soak up, hopefully to enjoy.
We had an outing planned today. With the delights of the big city to hand, we could have bought ourselves some seasonal excitement: going to a fun fair, being there as it goes dark and the lights go on.
(We’d done the fun fair before, a couple of times. For some, it’s the rides: for others, it’s the proximity of gluwein, wooden chalets, twinkly gifts, even if you look but don’t touch.)
It wasn’t to be this time. With wind and rain forecast – and then in evidence – we stayed home. It was the right move for today: friends to be with, our anticipating of the days to come shared over cups of tea and reasonably calm noises off from the kids.
On parting today, somehow it came about that we all sang We Wish You a Merry Christmas. Standing in the hall, six of us, zipping up coats, sharing an experience of Christmas.
Sometimes the best outings are the ones where you go somewhere without having to step outside the front door.
A classic frost fair, like the ones of the past when the Thames froze over: now that would be a Christmas outing and a half. Not an option these days – and really, I’m grateful it’s not as cold as that now.
Other places, more familiar with snow as a regular fixture, deal with it much better. More expectation of being outside, despite the temperatures.
Some day, we’ll get as far as ice skating on one of those outdoor Christmas ice rinks.
They seem to have grown in popularity at the same time as the likelihood of snow before or at Christmas has decreased in the UK.
Maybe some day I’ll develop a liking for chestnuts – another classic winter treat. No need to roast them on an open fire – a paper bag full, outside the British Museum, would be a start.
Whether it’s planned or incidental, paid for or a bonus – the outing is all about connecting with each other, as much as with Christmas itself.
Connection: despite, or maybe especially because of, the cold and the dark.