I work in retail, so as far as I'm concerned Christmas has been happening for a while now - though thanks to the increasing popularity of Halloween as a festival to celebrate the bulk of it is pushed back to the beginning of November these days.
I know I write this kind of post regularly at this time of year, but it all seems worth saying again. Since the clocks went back last weekend and people started to get paid it's all kicked up a gear at work - people (mostly women) are starting to prepare in earnest, and they're getting increasingly grumpy with it.
My first Christmas in the wine trade was 1999. Champagne sales were phenomenal, everyone wanted something special to drink, we had queues out the door, I've never seen shops busier, and the best thing about it was how excited everybody seemed to be part of this particular celebration. The year afterwards was just as busy, but the sense of excitement had gone, and it's ebbed further away ever since.
I guess the bar had been set high, and there's pressure to maintain that, the advertising is far more relentless now too, and our expectations have changed. There's a much greater sense of entitlement - we expect to get what we want, when we want it, and cheap. This has increased the chances of a customer having the sort of temper tantrum you'd once only have associated with a sleep deprived toddler exponentially. It's not a good look on an adult. It isn't going to magically produce the desired object either, but it will instantly destroy any desire a retailer had to help.
For me Christmas is all about the preparation anyway. It's by far the best bit, a process that helps keep the dark at bay. Walking through the city centre on my way home at this time of year it's a blaze of light and colour that only intensifies as the leaves fall from the trees. Grey, rainy, Sundays like today are filled with a sense of purpose as I tick off the things I want to do, and chance meetings with friends and acquaintances doing the same.
I know that as December wears on my goodwill will wear out, that by Christmas Eve when I finish work I'll be too tired to really enjoy anything before I'm back at work (probably for the 27th). So I'm going to get every bit of enjoyment I can now. That's why I love making Christmas puddings, the hours of steaming they require gives me time to think, as does the process of making mincemeat. I love the smells too, and the sense of putting things by for the very darkest days roots me in long traditions of housekeeping.
I've bought cards - important to do early whilst the choice is still good, and important to send because emailed versions, or social media messages, do not touch people in the same way, they certainly don't have the same cheering effect after a trying day at work. I'm not buying into the 'gave the money to charity instead' line either. This is a once a year opportunity to reach out to the people on the peripheries of our lives and show we care enough to make this effort. The older we get the more likely this is to include people this will really matter to. Cut corners somewhere else.
As for the rest of it, it should be optional. Don't spend more than you want or can afford. Nothing is ever going to be perfect anyway, and nothing is going to be ruined by the wrong Brie or a lack of Limoncello. It certainly shouldn't be a competition (especially to spend either money or emotional labour) but genuinely a time to share what you have with those you care about.
Mostly though, just be nice to wine merchants. We work hard, the pay isn't great, but we'll do everything we can to get you something great to drink if you're nice to us.