[Photo: Patrizia Ilaria Sechi]
Do you have Christmas shopping left to do? Have you, perhaps, not even started? Then you, sir (because you’re probably a man, aren’t you?) are the real heart and soul of the holidays. And here’s why.
Christmas is meant to be an exciting time of year, while doing things in advance is deadly boring. So only the Grinch could deny that leaving your gift shopping to the last possible minute makes you much more Christmassy, which is to say: just plain better. Meanwhile, everyone complains that Christmas in stores seems to start earlier and earlier each year. Here’s what they’re actually saying: ‘the later Christmas starts, the better!’ This is our axiom, our creed, our struggle.
Exhibit A: Father Christmas himself. Does he deliver his presents in dribs and drabs throughout December? Hell no! Santa Claus comes either on Christmas Eve, or even the small hours of Christmas Day itself, which would be criticised as pathetically late if we were to attempt it. Would it be a lot more efficient if Santa spaced out his deliveries? Yes –but it wouldn’t be very festive, would it? It’s ‘Santa Claus Is COMING To Town’, not ‘Santa Claus Has Already Been To Town, Except RG4-RG9 Postcodes, When He Will Be Delivering Between The Hours of 10am-6pm On December 22.’ Santa leaves his rounds until there are only a few seconds on the clock, and smashes it out the goddamn park anyway. That’s how Santa rolls, year after year. And that’s how we, the elite gift-getters, roll too.
The secret to last-minute gift shopping is to hold your nerve. Woe betide he whose convictions wobble at the final weekend, and hurries off to the high street. At this point, the streets still swarm with hordes of garden-variety procrastinators, who get in a right flap because they’ve got to pick up one more stocking-filler for Aunty June. These people are amateurs. The ‘weekend before’ is not the last minute. The last minute is the last minute!
Specifically: Christmas Eve. Only a select few have the icy resolve required to delay so daringly. It takes an iconoclastic spirit, an indifference to social convention, and boundless capacity for putting things off. You have to be the kind of person who, around the 19th when your colleagues ask you what you’re doing for Christmas, can sincerely reply, ‘Oh, Christmas! I’d forgotten. When is that, anyway?’
But precisely because so few people are brave, brilliant or stupid enough to adopt this strategy, Christmas Eve is the best shopping day of the year. The streets are relatively quiet, the shops manageable, the harried staff starting to visibly relax in the face of less frantic footfall and an imminent day off. For the first time, you can appreciate some Christmas lights, the odd window display, a jolly tree in a foyer. It’s nice! If you reflexively sigh when the first Christmas adverts hit television in early November, then you have to acknowledge that’s there’s nothing wrong with a bit of tinsel in the 24 hours directly before the Big Day.
So, it’s Christmas T-24 hours. Remember, this is high-wire, no-safety-net stuff. Failure is not an option. Amazon cannot save you now. Next day delivery will not deliver you from evil. You can’t even print vouchers off the work printer! Don’t screw this up.
First of all, you’ll need a LIST. (Even Santa, our patron saint of procrastination, makes a list. And checks it twice.) Write everyone’s name down. Now write what you’re getting them next to it. The more specific you can be, the better. ‘MUM: SOMETHING NICE/PRETTY??!? (£20 OR LESS)’ will not do when it’s 3pm and the first storefront shutters start to roll down. Bonus tip: pack a nice red felt tip to cross things out with as you buy them, which is 60-65 percent of the fun.
And then it’s off to the races. There’s an expression ‘slow is smooth, and smooth is fast.’ (You know who says that? Navy SEALS. So badass.) Basically: don’t rush! You are not ‘in a rush.’ You are in control. At the very least, you are out of bed, and out of the house. So get yourself a nice coffee as a reward! You earned it, buddy.
Here in London, I’d suggest starting at Covent Garden, where along with lots of Proper Shops, you have two of your secret weapons – a Paperchase, so you can wrap your winnings on the train, and a Fopp, home of the reasonably-priced musician biography for men you don’t know well. From here you can simply nip along to Foyles, then up to a frankly tranquil Oxford Street. Here you can swoop through the big hitters (I don’t need to remind you of them, I imagine). All done by Oxford Circus? Pop into Liberty for an outrageously fancy length of ribbon to add that classy touch. Still floundering? It’s going to be okay. Press onwards, towards the Giant Department Stores, and your last redoubt, John Lewis. By Bond Street, your last chance saloon is HMV, where an Emile Sandé record awaits, your proverbial emergency chute. You’ll hit the ground with a thump, but you’ll walk. You’ll walk all the way into next Christmas.
And that’s it! Head directly to the relevant train terminus to whisk you away to the Shires and three days of Articulate, awkwardness and ‘angovers. As you pull out of Waterloo bound for Micheldever, you may feel the warm glow of pride in your chest.
You walked up to the very line of disappointing your entire family, laughed into the void, and then absolutely killed it.
You are the Jason Bourne of Christmas. You are the guy Rudyard Kipling’s ‘If…’ was about.
You’re arriving on Christmas Eve, after dark, with a sackful of presents.
You are Santa!
Merry Christmas… and good luck!