How did we ever do Christmas without the tide of seasonal TV programmes that hold our hands along the path to Yuletide bliss? Without them, it’s a wonder we haven’t all thrown in the towel and done away with it altogether. Every December, with pedestrian predictability, an army of experts graces the airwaves, each with their own unique take on how to pull off the perfect festive season: replete with tips and tricks of the trade to assist and inspire us; to lighten the load that we mere mortals find so very hard to carry single-handedly. You’ve probably seen them more than you realise this month. Indeed, they’re increasingly difficult to escape.
While poster-boy Jamie shows a clueless nation how to dress their Christmas turkeys, Kirsty teaches us how to dress our homes in seasonal finery. Homemade Christmas soaps, anyone? Oz tells us which wine goes best with duck, as Hugh and the folk at River Cottage are taking things back to basics, which is just as well, because Heston’s cooking something outlandish and weird again. (No thanks, I’m really quite full.) But if all that mud and rustic living does get too much, not to fear – Nigella’s always on standby to provide a dollop of decadence smothered in a generous helping of those eye-pleasing aesthetics that have surely helped sell more cookbooks than the writer dares to imagine. Over on the other side, Gordon’s got the kids out, wooing us with their delightful matching outfits and his winning smile. A man for all seasons, we think. And we forget all the times he ever used a bad word or made some poor sous-chef embarrassed or cry into the mint jus. And for a moment everything’s just lovely. And we think that if Gordon isn’t angry today – if he really isn’t the petulant bully we’d all feared he was – then, maybe, just maybe… might the world be alright after all?
But since when did Gordon, or everyone else for that matter, become the authority on absolutely everything that they seem to be? When did it become normal for us to ever listen to so much advice, not just at Christmas, but right throughout the year? We wouldn’t pay the least bit of attention if someone at a bus stop or in the supermarket decided to impart their infinite wisdom on us – indeed it would probably send most of us looking for the nearest police officer. But like those adverts for polish and washing-up liquid from the 1960s, these manuals for the perfect housewife/ perfect house/ perfect wife (delete where applicable) must be a result of our own aspiration: an almost invisible desire to replicate the harmonious home and family dynamic that seems so idyllic for the sixty minutes, excluding commercial breaks, a year on Channel 4.
Should we be made to feel bad? The Christmas Myth, that unattainable domestic paradise of chestnuts roasting on an open fire, whilst Nigella nips at your nose, is just that: a myth. What Christmas TV offers us isn’t so much a self-help manual for the perfect 25th of December as a celebration of the aesthetic possibilities of it all. A gloriously warped image of what could be achieved if we all lived in a utopian civilization where everyone is always happy and has an unlimited line of credit at Waitrose, and actually weighs a stone less after all the mince pies and double cream have been consumed, and where things don’t burn and certainly never taste like rubber. It is this idea of Ideal Home Porn, the fantasy that masquerades as the foolproof guide branded with the trusted face, which means that, this Christmas, as you sip your festive mulled wine with festive cheer, things can’t possibly go wrong. Can they?