I hate Christmas markets.
Crucify me, but I loathe them. Every December, the parks of Europe are transformed into Poundshop medieval hamlets, kitted out with everything from ramshackle ferris wheels to vendors of a boozy gloop that, to those who were born without tastebuds, resembles Gluhwein. Inexplicably,wide-eyed provincials pour in from the periphery not to see the great monuments of our capital cities lit up in beaming lights, nor the magnificence ofChristmas in the arts, such as Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker or the choirs ofEurope’s cathedrals, but rather a nauseating, faux-fur exhibition of cliché, as utterly devoid of imagination as it is jammed with people. You know something has gone horribly wrong, or you’re staying at a Marriott, when you willingly,enthusiastically even, pay more for something objectively worse. Looking at you, £4 ‘festive’ pastries. Bah, humbug.
Hold on. How did it get to this? How can something so trivial become such an intrusion on my happiness? Certainly, Christmas markets are rather tacky, and completely indistinguishable from each other, but they’re notNazi trade fairs. Why bother hating them?
I suspect we live in a time where passions are easily, and unnecessarily, stirred. If Christmas markets divide the nation into thrilled punters and sardonic snobs, try Brexit on for size. The story goes as follows: Brexiteers hate foreigners, and don’t have brains. Remainers hate democracy,the poor, and England. Everyone hates the Theresa May. Theresa May hates Brexit, but also the EU. Londoners hate the rest of the country, and the rest of the country hates Londoners.
Not very Christmassy. Perhaps we ought to spend less time obscenely caricaturing the views of others, and more time understanding our own. Is Brexit so paramount and singularly noble a cause that its detractors lack common humanity? Conversely, is leaving the EU so heinous that its proponents must invariably be villains?
I doubt it. Whatever your take on Brexit two years ago, you will by now have doubled down and dug your trenches, rather than admit you were wrong on something so consequential. Rather than asking uncomfortable questions about the salience of one’s own ideas, it is far easier to demonise one’s opposing number. Hence, if I were to implore you to make amends with your friends in the enemy tribe this year, you’d innocently shrug. Because in 2018,what Remainer still has Brexit-voting friends?
There’s a sad thought. Dial the clock back to World War One. OnChristmas Day in 1914, British and German soldiers, both armies already depleted by the hundreds of thousands, left their trenches, converged in no-mans land – and played football. They traded chocolate for cigarettes, and exchanged Christmas cards. They’d keep killing each other for another four years, but the Christmas Truce of 1914 proved that even in that inferno there were glimmers of civility. Contrary to contemporary sentiments, no one will kill for Brexit. Vilify Remainers as you wish, but they won’t shoot you. If the participants of an actual war, with real guns, could share pictures of their loved ones with each other, then surely Izzy, the Remain-voting, flexitarian treehugger can stomach a Brexiteer acquaintance’s occasional presence on herInstagram feed. Yet I fear Izzy will let me down, as she did her vegan friends when her demolition of a late-night kebab was caught on camera.
The serious columnist, unafraid to tread the road most travelled,will announce that the bias-confirming digital echo chambers we inhabit must bethe first to go in a national campaign of reconciliation. Sure, but why stop there? Let us suspend gravity while we’re at it. Instead, in the spirit of the season, invite a Brexiteer to dinner – and don’t talk about Brexit. I expect some readers are already dreading the fallout from the arrival of the country-dwelling relatives on Christmas Day. Don’t! For the love of God, take them to the Christmas market and marvel at the plywood log cabins and cheap trinkets for sale. Doing my bit to heal the divisions of our society, I will stop berating Christmas markets – perhaps I’ll even go to one.