This year, while Christmas shopping online, I briefly visited the Boden UK website on the off-chance that, by some sort of Christmas miracle, anything there fell within my budget. Instead, on the men's knitwear page, I found rows of beautiful men wearing luxury cardigans, and looking deeply uncomfortable.
Some men were hugging themselves. Others stared, worriedly, off-camera. Yet others were tugging their sleeves, seemingly trying to sidle out of shot.
The whole thing tickled me, so I casually tweeted some screenshots, then returned to my shopping without a second thought. Later, I was shocked to discover my tweet had been favourited more than 7,000 times. It’s still being shared now.
Every man on the Boden website is your boyfriend, trapped in a Boxing Day conversation with your relatives, trying to figure out an exit strategy pic.twitter.com/wXjzp2PsYfDecember 8, 2020
Like many people in long-term relationships, each year the period between Christmas Day and New Year's Day has been devoted to visiting each partner’s relatives in a sort of dutiful split pilgrimage.
Is it time we reclaimed Betwixmas for ourselves?
This period – ‘Betwixtmas' for some people; for others, it's the slightly less quaint 'festive perineum’ – is a time of sleet-sodden journeys up the M1 or down the A30; arguments over in-car playlists; dispiriting sandwiches from strip-lit roadside pit-stops.
It's standing around in a chintzy, overheated living room, quietly sweating under the weight of your suddenly itchy Christmas jumper; nursing half a frozen vol-au-vent; finding yourself in intolerable or deathly boring conversations with people you may or may not be related to. And then doing it again and again, in chintzy overheated living rooms up and down the country.
This is what the Boden UK men’s knitwear page reminded me of; every model looked as though he was trying to explain his job and/or life choices to someone’s Great-Aunt Brexit – who in turn only wanted him to compliment her Christmas pudding, or put corporal punishment back on the curriculum.
Of course, not every festive family interaction is so bleak – but the thing is, once you’ve completed a 400-mile journey in wintry road conditions, you may be so exhausted that every relative you’ve talked to can blur into one Great-Aunt Brexit archetype.
I don’t know about you, but I always somehow expect the Christmases of my teenage years: endless days in pyjamas, hoovering up leftover liqueur chocolates in front of festive TV specials.
But I’m an adult and I have a million relatives to visit – and now I have small children with, er, “vibrant” personalities, too – so this never happens. New Year’s seems to pass in a flash, and then suddenly I’m back at work, feeling as though I haven’t had a break at all.
If this is your experience of Christmas, too, maybe 2020 will provide the break you need. Don’t get me wrong – I’ve been failing entirely to juggle working, parenting, and basic being-a-human-ing all year, so I’m not about to come at you with some actually-2020-wasn’t-as-bad-as-all-that glibness.
Tier 4's Christmas gift to all: time
However, one thing a Tier 4 Christmas does give you is this: time. This year, other than 40 minutes of Great-Aunt Brexit over Zoom, you may find you’ve got your festive perineum back. And that’s when, at least to some degree, you can do what you like.
Instead of grimly bombing up and down the motorway with a bad feeling and a stomach full of Brussels sprouts, you spend the next few days letting yourself stay in your pyjamas. You could hoover up some chocolates. You could – hey! – actually look at the presents you got.
You could take up kitesurfing, or running, or actually read a book (obviously all of this applies to a far lesser extent if you also have kids, and they’re small kids – although in that case their chocolates are fair game after they’ve gone to bed). You might actually, if you manage to rest a little over Christmas, start 2021 in a good mood and with a lighter heart.
And finally, provided we return to something approaching normality in 2021 and beyond – perhaps in Christmases to come, you’ll remember the healing power of doing a little of what you fancy in the bit between Christmas and New Year, and doing the rounds of relatives will become less of a thing.
You never know, Great-Aunt Brexit might hate overheated living rooms, too.
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