For me, the end of the festivities is heralded not by the traditional siren call of Twelfth Night but by the silent unfolding of the final page of the double-issue Radio Times, the last solemn sip of port and the unhappy discovery that among the colourful confetti of wrappers in the Quality Street tin remains not one remotely edible chocolate (toffee pennies notwithstanding).
One of the fascinating things about a 21st-century British Christmas is the discrepancy between the idealised Dickensian vision to which we still desperately cleave (snow-covered streets dappled with cobbles and peppered here and there with glowing chestnut braziers, butchers’ windows displaying plump geese, candle-lit congregations raising the roof with traditional carols) and the relentless consumer-driven reality that confronts us each year (identikit supermarkets recycling the interminable festive soundtrack, alcohol-fuelled office parties and stress-filled trips to Toys ’R’ Us).
While there doesn’t seem to have been much to celebrate about this austerity Christmas, I’m fervently hoping that one of the upsides for many families has been a return to an appreciation of the simpler joys. Even the big stores decided to ditch their relentless ‘buy more stuff from us’ messages in favour of a slightly more subtle ‘reflect on the simple things that give you pleasure’ mantra.
Something must have resonated because many retail groups – especially those that represent value for money – have recently announced improved sales figures for the Nov-Jan period – Primark is 14% up on its 2012 turnover and home shopping giant, Argos, reported at 3.8% increase in like-for-like sales over the 18 weeks up to 4 Jan, with 50% of its sales now transacted online using the ‘click and collect’ service. Online shopping provider, Ocado, also enjoyed a 20% increase in sales – fuelled, presumably, by those of us who’d rather sit at home with a glass of sherry than join the massed hordes scrapping over the last tub of brandy butter at the local supermarket.
I do love Christmas – both versions – but that could be down to the fact that my 17-year-old son no longer pines for Tracy Island or the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, and that my local Booths store seems to stock everything we need and has the added advantage of being within walking distance of our house. Here’s to 2014 – and just 331 days till next Christmas!