Belfast Telegraph

Paxman has a fir point: Christmas has gone totally over the top now

By Lindy McDowell

Oul Paxo may have a point about the tree. Jeremy Paxman is said to have taken the needle over the idea of a Christmas fir in his Newsnight studio.

Presumably on the grounds that too much grotto doesn't promote gravitas.

Paxman has reportedly insisted that the tinsel and baubles which adorn the studio for other earlier shows be removed before his evening gig.

Of course it may also be down to fears within the politically correct Beeb that the merest hint of fairy light at this time of the year might signal a partisan approach during a current affairs show.

But Paxo is right to take a stand. Let the tree in this year and next Christmas they'll be suggesting he presents Newsnight in a Santa hat.

For the weird thing is that the more its critics rail against Christmas the bigger it seems to get.

This is the secular Christmas I'm talking about here. The one brought to you not by the choir of angels but by the army of marketing execs.

Attempts to neuter it down to Winterfest failed to slow it; the recession hasn't tamed it either.

It is bigger and brasher than ever. It is now decorations outside as well as inside your house. It is gifts and Santa suits even for your pets.

It is tinsel with everything. Fairy lights as far as the eye can see. Christmas editions of everything from TV shows to dinner services. It is shopping online and in the streets.

But in terms of totally, utterly OTT no area of Xmas excess comes close to the food aisle.

Food is the new religion of the masses and at this time of the year you cannot escape its high priests. Heston Blumenthal, Nigella, Delia, Gordon Ramsey and especially Jamie Oliver. They're everywhere.

Whether the health lobby has noted any correlation between the rise of this foodie flogging band and the gastric band who can tell.

But a quick look around at some of the Christmas food specials in magazines and on the telly would suggest the sensible eating lobby has now entirely lost the obesity war.

Recession or no, at all points we are being urged to celebrate this Christmas with a feast that would do credit to Henry VIII.

The standard turkey isn't enough anymore.

Shops are now pushing the new gluttonous option of a bird within a bird within a bird within a bird. This is exactly as it sounds.

Poultry of decreasing size shoved inside each other like an edible version of Russian dolls.

It's just not right. Sprouts aren't just sprouts anymore. They have to have bits of bacon and chestnuts added. And everything has to have cranberry in it.

And aside from the fowl, your Christmas lunch is expected to include a ham, a side of beef and a vegetarian option.

All sold in sizes that would feed North Korea for a month.

You're also expected to stock up on the "party bites" - something which a few years back didn't even exist outside of sausage rolls and the prawn ring.

Now there are endless options of fiddly wee mini pies, burgers, dim sum and bhajis.

Most of this stuff will spend January in the freezer.

We'll be too busy trying to make a dent in the smoked salmon, the stilton, the liqueur chocolates, the Christmas chocolate bombe and the chilli coated cashew nuts to even care.

Never mind that tree, Paxo, the stuffing is also getting out of hand ...

But isn't the enduring success of Christmas down to the fact that for all its excesses, most of us manage to take Christmas in our stride?

That we don't get quite as carried away as the marketing men imagine.

May yours, whether you are for or anti-tree-and-turkey, be a good one.

Merry Christmas!

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