As I watch the grim faces of the shoppers passing by, I can’t help but reflect again about how stressful Retail Christmas can be. It’s a big thing in Britain, and quite distinct from the religious festival with which it shares its name: I can’t help feeling that it couldn’t exist at all if advertising were banned. But anyway, what has this to do with self-sufficiency?

piggy bank with santa hat, image

A few years ago while on a winter holiday in Nottingham (yes, they do exist) I had my first ever professional massage from a chap called Alexandru. I never pass up the chance to talk to someone with a different perspective on things, so while I lay on my stomach with Alex attempting to break each of my ribs in turn, I got him talking. It didn’t take him long to tell me how much he was missing home.

“Did you go back for Christmas?” I asked him.

“No,” he said sadly. “My wife, she is working. You know. Is dentist. I wished to go home though, because Christmas… you know.” He gestured in the air with one of my feet, which surprised me because I had thought I knew where they both were at the time.

“You don’t like Christmas here?”

He laughed. “No. Here it is…. is nothing. Is buy, is sell, but… nothing. You know.”

I agreed. “What’s Christmas like in Romania then?”

His eyes sparkled, and he switched over into a long kneading movement that was less painful than the agonizing knuckling he’d been giving me before. Reminiscence hurts less than regret, I was discovering. “Ahhh,” he said, as if savouring a fine wine. “Is beautiful. Is magical. Is…”

“Ow!”

“…so sorry. Is difficult to explain. The clear air. The dark – so dark. The first flakes of snow. The screaming of the pigs. The children…”

“Wait a minute, the screaming of the what?”

But of course. Working class people in his area, he told me, don’t eat very much meat. It’s too expensive. But during the summer everyone who can afford to buys a piglet and keeps it in their garden, where it lives through the autumn on scraps and occasional grain. It gets trips to the woods to forage, and lives a pretty good life; until the snow starts, and then you stun your pig and hoist it up on the porch and… well, you get the picture. It wasn’t the procedure that surprised me – the EU hasn’t got its hooks in too deep yet – but that the noise was part of Alexandru’s mental image of Christmas.

But ever since then, when I see how stressed out some people get at Retail Christmas, I can’t help but think: squeeee…

Season’s greetings, everyone.

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