How we could all learn something from Lidl's School of Christmas ad
Lidl's new Christmas television advertisement - the first of the supermarket's festive offerings to hit screens - is a veritable cracker. The Lidl School of Christmas - where pupils learn how to jam a leftover parsnip into a Boxing Day sandwich and dress their dog as good King Wenceslas - is a winner in my books, as it's silly but fun. Exactly like Margo Leadbetter learned the season should be in the Good Life Christmas special from 1977.
Now, I know that a November 1 premiere for a Christmas advert sticks in some viewers' throats like a toffee penny, but, to me, Lidl's offering - featuring earnest sorts learning how to attach a light display to a plum pudding, plus lessons in how to feign delight over rubbish presents - is beautifully welcome.
Its joy comes from the skewering of a dozen silly, slightly rubbish things that make up a brilliant Christmas. Brussels sprouts, shabby Santas with flammable beards and rarely a word about religion.
Coincidentally, the ad appeared just after I'd finished dispensing Yuletide wisdom to a British-born friend with Indian family who was hell-bent, after 27 years in London, on finally nailing the art of the traditional Christmas dinner. "We try every year and it just goes wrong," she said.
"Okay, don't stress," I said, inwardly feeling stressed, as I'm feeding seven people myself in seven weeks' time and have yet to secure an Ocado slot. Plus, importantly, this underlying feeling of mild stress from the beginning of November onwards is the true feeling of a traditional Christmas.
Believe me, I once spent December 10-24 in Cuba with not a thing to do, buy, or achieve and the lack of pre-Christmas anxiety made me edgy and melancholy.
A First World problem, yes, but I wanted to be in Oxford Street at 9pm panic-buying Lush bathbombs to the tune of 2000 Miles by The Pretenders. I wanted to be in a shambolic festive forest grotto near St Albans, which costs £18 per ticket and where the snow machine pumps out grey slush and the elves smoke Marlboro Reds behind the reindeer pen.
I wanted to be at an endless infant school nativity play where toddlers in tea-towels drop Tiny Tears Jesus on his head during a descant recorder rendition of Do They Know It's Christmas.
All of these things make a very British Christmas. God might not get mentioned much during proceedings, but he's there somewhere in the detail.
"So, Christmas dinner, it's just a roast dinner really," I said to my friend. "With some cranberry sauce stuck on the side."
"But what do I do with the cranberries?" she asked. "Don't buy cranberries," I said. "Just buy a jar of red gloop in Tesco, put it on the side of your plate to make it look colourful, then scrape it in the bin afterwards. None of us really likes the cranberries. We just feel shortchanged if they're not there."
From there we moved on to how exactly to roast a turkey, in which I admitted readily that turkey was not half as delicious, or moist, as chicken. In fact, it can end up dry and tasting like fish - even if you've been cooking turkey for decades. I also admitted that no one can eat more than three Brussels sprouts without swift and debilitating flatulence and, in fact, part of the innate British Yuletide experience is being in close captivity with family while inwardly wrestling acute, noxious bum gusts.
"So, should I cancel the sprouts?" she asked. "Lord no," I gasped, "they're the thing that really makes it Christmas dinner." And, at this point, it began to cross my mind that there must be millions of people across Britain dying to do a proper Christmas dinner, who pick up copies of glossy cookery magazines in December, look at perfect 10 recipes for complex almond and apricot stuffing and the perfect creme anglaise, then promptly give up.
And that's sad as Christmas shouldn't be remotely perfect. The vast-budgeted schmaltzy ads we'll be bombarded with, in which happy families sit at heaving dinner tables where the napkins match the bejewelled table runners, well, as Morrissey says, they say nothing to me about my life.
There's a great bit in the Lidl advert where a pupil is shoving spouts in a plastic kettle as he's run out of pans. If he's anything like me, he'll get so drunk on Baileys listening to Wham! while cooking he'll forget to serve them, and then eat his dinner on a deck-chair.
Lidl's Christmas - much like its prices - may be slightly low-rent, but it's one I can truly believe in.