Christmas is coming and it isn’t only the goose that’s getting fat — so are you. That’s according to the skinny, pie-dodging miserable lot who make up the public-health lobby. For these people — who are living proof that a lack of sugar makes you cranky — the countdown to Christmas isn’t an opportunity to excite kids about Santa’s sack or splurge on gifts for loved ones; no, it’s an ideal time to freak people out about the dangers of eating and drinking too much.
Every year it’s the same. It starts in November. An alcohol-awareness group (a fancy term for the neo-temperance movement) and obesity experts (a grand title for fat-shamers) rattle off press releases about the awful things we’ll do to our guts and livers. As the Christmas decor goes up and the Oxford Street lights come on, the new puritans come out, fingers cocked for wagging, to lecture us about the fat in a lard-laced spud or the number of calories in a slab of Christmas pudding slathered in custard and brandy butter: 1,174, apparently. Mmmm.
Apparently we consume 250 million pints of beer and 35 million bottles of wine over Christmas (makes you proud to be British, don’t it?). This liquor washes down ten million turkeys and 25 million puddings. And it all adds around 6lbs to the average Brit’s weight. That sounds sensible to me: December is cold; we need extra fat.
The Scrooges of the tragic, calorie-counting world of health fanaticism can’t abide the thought of all this gorging. So they spread scare stories that generate such festive headlines as ‘How that Christmas blowout could give you a heart attack’ and ‘Thousands of people at risk through Christmas drinking’.
But fear not: they have tips for a healthy Christmas. The National Obesity Forum (NOF) says we should kick off Christmas Day with a brekkie of ‘smoked salmon and scrambled eggs [and] a small glass of orange juice’. Be still my beating tastebuds! The Public Health Agency of Northern Ireland advises people to have four units of booze. That’s a pint and a half of beer. On Christmas Day? These people are insane.
You’d think the fat cops would take a break at Christmas. Their year-round fun-sucking food panics — about salt, sugar, chippies near schools, junk-food ads, and other things they think are tempting the dim public to a life of waddling ill-health — are one of the most dispiriting things in public life today. They drain the joy from eating. Consider those calorie counts now attached to the fare in chain restaurants. I don’t want to know that the Starbucks carrot cake has 648 calories. I thought carrot cake was healthy. Leave me alone.
Yet far from relaxing at Christmas, food-fearers ramp up their killjoyism. The NOF even says we should use the opportunity of Christmas to ‘tell loved ones they are overweight’. So on Christmas Day you should eat scraps of salmon, drink a max of one glass of wine, and tell your brother he’s a fat bastard — the health fanatic’s idea of a holiday well spent.
This countdown-to-Christmas moaning is proof we’re living in an era of new puritanism. The original puritans also had a beef with Christmas, effectively banning it between 1645 and 1660. They hated its excess. ‘What banqueting and feasting,’ complained the vigorous puritan pamphleteer Philip Stubbs. They railed against the ‘drinking, roaring, dicing, carding [and] dancing’ of Christmas Day.
If anything, our modern puritans are worse. At least the stiff folk of the 17th century believed reducing bodily pleasure would help expand the spirit, get one closer to God. The new puritans offer no such spiritual transcendence in return for our curbing of our blowouts — only the bovine payback of a slightly smaller waistline.
We eat around 6,000 calories on Christmas Day, disgusted experts say. We can do better than that. Start with a buck’s fizz breakfast; don’t scrimp on the Christmas tree chocs; make brunch a sozzled, carb-heavy mix of your first beer and some Christmas panettone; everything for dinner should be cooked in turkey fat; follow that with a 1,174-cal slice of Christmas pudding; end with more booze and a selection box you don’t pick at but consume entirely. We can beat 6,000 calories. We owe it to old England and the original spirit of Christmas.