A Christmas Tale (to avoid like the plague)
Updated: Dec 15, 2021
I’m going to take a break from wittering about writing to talk about something else for a while. Or at least I’m still going to talk about writing, but not about my kind of writing. Clear as mud? Ok, here we go.
Dear writers of hospital dramas, soap operas, family-based sitcoms, and heartwarming Christmas episodes of all kinds. Stop it.
Look, I know it’s tempting, I understand: no-one wants originality at Christmas, and it’s such a nice, sweet, happy little plot, and the parallels are nigh-on irresistible but, seriously, stop it. Stop making characters have their babies on Christmas Eve.
Yes, I know it happens. Trust me, I know. I did it too. But the difference between you and me is that you keep doing it on purpose, whereas I did it because I’m an idiot who thought all that nonsense about long walks, and hot baths, and curries bringing on labour was just an old wives' tale; and learned far too late that old wives, especially old midwives, do occasionally know what they’re talking about.
When I found out I was in labour the first thing I said was “Oh, no!” which scandalised the midwife but, as she suggested we put on some lovely Christmas music, I knew exactly what we were letting the poor kid in for. And it wasn’t just birthday presents bought at full cost instead of in the January sales. A Christmas baby might seem like a lovely idea, but that baby will very quickly turn into a child who, try as their parents might, will never truly have a day to call their own.
Trust me: the first thing a person says on hearing about a “Christmas birthday” is “That’s nice,” followed with awful inexorability by; “does that mean you get double presents?” No. The poor benighted child of your poxy early-evening entertainment does not get "double presents.” They get the same amount of presents as they would if their birthday were on any other day of they year. If they’re lucky.
If their family actually celebrates Christmas then, even if they manage to make a little pocket of time to be “just” their birthday, the rest of the day will be subsumed in a welter of Christmas stockings, Christmas presents, Christmas cakes and, of course, Christmas songs. Including, if they are very unlucky, the abhorrent abomination that is Happy Birthday Jesus. No one will ever be more aware that Jesus of Nazareth was not born on the twenty fifth of December than your wretched, adorable Christmas baby.
And they don’t make cards with Mithras on. I’ve checked.
Even if they aren’t expected to personally take part in the celebration of someone else’s misplaced birthday (but let’s be honest, if you’re writing a “Christmas Baby” story, you’re probably going to make them at least nominally Christian) they still won’t get to enjoy their birthday the way everybody else does.
For starters, Christmas advertising has got so completely out of hand these days that your precious Christmas babe will have to spend a good three months of the year being reminded that “their” special day does not, in the eyes of the world, belong to them, but to tinsel, overeating, conspicuous consumption, and minor celebrities in dresses with sequins on. The Christmas child may not wish it could be Christmas every day, but they will certainly start to feel as though it is.
Then there’s the day itself.
As a child, your Christmas baby will have to watch as all their friends get to bring cakes or sweets to school, and receive general congratulations on their most special of days; while knowing all the while that they will never get to do this. Of course that goes for anyone else unlucky enough to have a birthday during a school holiday as well, but at least those children can still have a party on their birthday and invite the whole class. Including the ones they don’t actually like. No especially the ones they don’t like. Because their parents said so.
Sorry, I digress. But only a little bit: it’s still a shared experience, after all, and one your sweet, little Christmas brat will probably never share.
Even if the Christmas child and all their classmates abstain from even the most secular of Christmas celebrations, a birthday party on Christmas Day just won’t be the same. For one thing, all the shops will have adjusted their stock to account for the season, so party decorations and cakes will be in short supply. At least ones that don’t say “Merry Christmas” all over them. On the day itself the shops will be closed, of course, making last minute presents an impossibility. Everywhere else will be closed too, or everywhere that matters: your child will never know the sticky, uncomfortable joy of a birthday party at the local soft-play centre.
Still, at least the roads should be clear: the guests will have no excuse for being late.
In the end Christmas birthday parties are just a little bit wrong, and there's nothing that can be done to change it.
Eventually, of course, the Christmas child will grow up, leave such childish concerns behind, and learn that they can never have an office birthday either. If the business isn’t actually closed for Christmas Day, it’ll either be half empty — as everyone who can takes the day off to spend with their family — or so busily swamped that there simply isn’t time to cut a cake or sing a rousing chorus of Let’s Pretend To Celebrate Because It Takes Us Away From Our Desks.
In short, your badly-written bundle of Christmas joy will grow up to loathe the season of their birth and, if they don’t become irreparably bitter and twisted, will spend every birthday putting a brave face on things, absent-mindedly replying “You too!” to wishes of “Happy Birthday!” and generally just getting through the day, looking forward to the point when Christmas is over and they can let out a long, secret sigh of relief and settle down with a glass of something flat and sparkle-less, in front of some thoroughly un-festive television, and watch something that has absolutely no danger of including another ruddy Christmas baby. So this year, instead of stranding some panting girl in the back of a taxi cab, and leaving her, inevitably, to have her child under some suitably symbolic star, sign or Christmas tree; please, writers of Christmas drama, do something different for once. Perhaps you could add something to the canon of Christmas Carol re-imaginings, or reveal why one of your characters has always hated Christmas and then help them get over it, or try some other hackneyed plot that won’t leave anyone growing up to hate the very day that they were written. Or, if symbolism’s your thing, you could always do something with homelessness in it, or refugees. They may not be as sweet or as happy as the gurgling bundle of future resentment, but those are Christmas themes as well. They might even help to make someone’s life better in the real world, if you handle them properly.
I don’t really care what you write, in the end, just as long as — please, Christmas writers, just this once — it isn’t another, miserable Christmas Baby.
...There, darling, I’ve written it, and I’ll post it, I promise I will, so will you please stop playing Do They Know It’s Christmas-time, and give me back my laptop?
I didn’t mean to do it. I swear.