Each week, Daily Maverick brings you some of the lesser-reported news from South Africa and further afield. This week: the not-so-festive side of the season.
‘Daddy always said Christmas is a joyous season when suicides and hold-ups and shoplifting and the like reach a new high and the best place to spend the whole thing is a Muslim country.’ – Patrick Dennis, The Joyous Season
If you’re anything like me, you probably encountered the first mince pies on the supermarket shelves some time in August with a little nauseous panic. Yes, we did blink twice and 2017 disappeared.
Time, it turns out, is even more subjective than we realised. I read, with horror, a study which claimed learning slows down the subjective perception of time. This is why, when you travel to a new place, the journey there may seem slower than the journey back. When your brain is absorbing new information, the passage of time feels slower.
But it also means when you’re older, time appears to fly by much faster. It’s not only that each year is shorter relative to the total time you’ve been alive. It’s that, when you’re young, you’re absorbing so much more new information that – according to the authors of that study – if you were to live to 80, subjectively, you’d have lived half your life by 20.
Okay, you can put down the hip flask now and stop writing out your will. You’re not quite finished. You can, remember, slow things down by continuing to learn, so I suggest you sign up for those salsa classes or download Duolingo in 2018.
Time does, however, become more precious to us as we get older – that’s inescapable.
That’s not the only reason the festive season leaves some of us feeling a little raw. It is, as countless news reports remind us, also the time of year when crime goes through the roof (criminals also have families to entertain, I guess), road accidents sky-rocket, and hospitals are bursting at the seams with everything from stab wounds to burns to “decorating accidents”. Because – stop the press – turns out not all families get along, and forcing human beings to spend prolonged periods with people they ordinarily avoid – while throwing liquor into the mix – isn’t a good idea. Who’da thunk?
Yet the sense that time is racing by makes us feel sentimental, so each year we throw caution to the wind and gather up our nearest, dearest, and not-so-dearest, and consider our blessings, like the love we have for each other, and the fact that we are not turkeys.
And then it begins.
According to a British survey cited in the Daily Mail, harmony doesn’t last long for two-thirds of families during holiday celebrations. Tempers are most likely to fray at 15:18 (very precise), around an hour after dinner is served. One in 10 families don’t make it through breakfast without a fight, getting into a barney within an hour of waking up.
Alcohol-fuelled brawls are common in families that start drinking at lunchtime. In this case, arguments are likely to start by 14:00.
But the most common festive fall-outs are around – wait for it – who gets to man the remote control. I wasn’t quite sure what to make of this last bit, since in our family watching TV during a festive meal would be considered quite as bizarre and Not Done as bringing a live goat as your dinner date. More relatable was this fun stat: the prediction that some six million board games would probably come to grief.
“A good tip,” a spokesperson for the survey said helpfully, “is to ensure you stay as calm as possible, to simply plan ahead.”
Whatever planet this chap is living on, it’s clearly nowhere near South Africa. Try telling the trauma unit staff at Chris Hani Baragwanath or any of our other hospitals to “plan ahead” for a holiday weekend. In 2016/2017, the roads had already been 16% deadlier than previously by 20 December; by January, some 1,700 people had been killed.
On that cheery note, South Africans have been full of festive advice in recent years. Apparently the five budget-busters over the festive season we must all watch out for are sunstroke, car crashes, burns, alcohol poisoning and drowning. Mind you, if I drowned it’s not my budget I’d be immediately worried about, but there you are.
Other, universal safety tips include taking extra care to avoid decorating injuries. These can occur, we are warned, when one is hanging wreaths, stringing lights, preparing a festive meal, or lighting candles. The most commonly reported decorating injuries are falls, lacerations and back strains. Cuts from carving turkeys and other meats are also common. “Drinking and decorating,” warns orthopaedic clinic Rebound soberly, “is not recommended.”
But perhaps all the drunk decorating and board game barneys could be avoided if we could find a way to get along with each other for a few short weeks each year, which appears to be something nobody has yet figured out. Countless guides have popped up online over the years, and each piece of advice appears more useless than the last. (Survey spokesperson, I’m looking at you.) From advising people to joke about each other’s opposing political views (hah!) to “avoiding heated discussions” (because nobody has thought of that before), the advice goes from bad to worse.
I’d recommend a personality-specific guide, perhaps: one that would tackle each of the obnoxious types one is likely to encounter at festive parties. Say, the Screaming Toddler (earplugs); Critical Christine (rapid change of subject); Martyred Mandy (leave her in the kitchen; she likes the bargaining power); Nosy Nancy (torture her: say tantalisingly mysterious things just within earshot of her on a constant basis, like “pregnancy test” or “private call”) the Drunk Uncle (drunkle?) (lots of ice); Dronkverdriet Dexter (pat him till he falls asleep); Proud Parent (nod silently but mentally practice those verb lists you downloaded for Duolingo lesson); or Trolling Terry (no feeding allowed).
And you and me? Well, that’s easy. We’re perfect. Top us up, would you? DM
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Marelise van der Merwe and Daily Maverick grew up together, so her past life increasingly resembles a speck in the rearview mirror. She vaguely recalls writing, editing, teaching and researching, before joining the Daily Maverick team as Production Editor. She spent a few years keeping vampire hours in order to bring you each shiny new edition (you're welcome) before venturing into the daylight to write features. She still blinks in the sunlight.
By the time of his death in 1987, Hitler's deputy Rudolph Hess was the sole prisoner in Spandau prison, a facility designed for 600.