It sneaks up on you like a bad migraine.
At first, you begin to notice it in the TV ads, then on the supermarket shelves and fronts of people’s houses. Something just seems a little strange about everything in the world, like some secret, sinister force is slowly taking over. Before you know it, it’s infected everything and everyone like a weirdly joyous plague.
I am, of course, talking about Christmas. That compulsory celebration of which we are all painfully familiar. The time of uncomfortable family reunions and frenzied shopping. When the hordes of Christmas-obsessed happiness warriors descend and declare that a merry Christmas shall be foisted on us all. And with strained faces we all pretend to be inhabited by this Christmas spirit, dutifully wearing our flimsy party hats while “I wish it could be Christmas every day” blasts out of loudspeakers like wartime propaganda.
But there is one thing that is magical about Christmas – something that almost makes the endurance worthwhile. And that is the customary and delightful EastEnders Christmas special. Yes I know, soap operas may have the entertainment value of a washing machine, and plots that appear to have been drawn out using crayons. But one has to admire the bravery and mercy of a programme that emerges onto our screens on the evening of the 25th and brings the Christmas spirit down with a thud. When some character we’re supposed to sympathise with dies, or some happy marriage we’re supposed to care about is broken up by an affair, it’s a delight to see the tense air of manufactured happiness being punctured and demolished. I wouldn’t exchange this small pleasure for anything, except perhaps for avoiding the whole Christmas ordeal in the first place.
So for me, Christmas starts when that awful red, green and snowy fog descends on the world. But it ends triumphantly with a moment of deeply satisfying schadenfreude sat watching BBC One.