There are two Christmas song lyrics which I have an irrational hatred for. One is from Paul McCartney's 'Wonderful Christmastime', in which he claims "The choir of children sing their song/ They practised all year long". This is patently untrue. Yes, Christmas is a big time for children's choirs. But so is Easter, and weddings, and all the other multi-denominational events in the calendar which call for singing children. They can't possibly be practising all the year just for Christmas. Think about it, Paul!
The other lyric I hate was written by John Lennon (as you can tell, I really have it in for the Beatles):
"So this is Christmas/ And what have you done? /Another year older/ And a new one just begun…"
This is potentially the most miserable thing you'll hear all season, made all more horrifying by its truth. I have always thought Lennon sounds slightly drunk when he sings these lines, which seems fitting because it's while drinking, around this time of year, that we are most prone to self-pity. And to explaining ourselves–even at my age, relatively young at 25, I feel the need to somehow justify the last year of my life in conversation when I run into people I've not seen since last Christmas over drinks.
A lot of this can be blamed on emigration. Childhood friends who moved away to England or Australia, who all year have been spectres in Facebook chats, return home this week and run into you on the roof of the Workman's Club. That excited screechy sound and the hug when you see them isn't forced: it's been forever, and you're genuinely glad to see them.
Then suddenly you have to somehow collapse a year of your life into an elevator pitch. "What have you been up to?" "Well, let's see. I've been writing very serious journalism about cronuts…"
With hope, some office party straggler will gatecrash the conversation and puncture the awkwardness, lurching into your line of vision to ask you to "gizzz a smile…."
Friends who live abroad at least have an easy excuse: they've inherently achieved something by running far away from Ireland.
Sometimes friends can be more intimidating than grandparents, and success in your twenties is such a relative thing. What matters to you might be meaningless to your friends: success might be graduating. It might be staying in college. It might be holding down a relationship, or gathering a small army of strangers on Twitter. It might be moving out of home. It might be staying there, and putting all your money into one ridiculous idea.
It might be all, or none of the above. There's a sense of the apocalypse to end-of-year-drinking, a pressure to keep up appearances, to create good memories as the year fizzles out, even as you drink enough to make sure you never do.
Does anyone actually enjoy the office party? Does anyone make it to the twelfth pub of Christmas? I suspect not. There's a poignancy to it too, made all the more surreal by the packs of overgrown elves in light-up sweaters who appear on the fringes of photographs with pints spilling out of their hands, like a stag party from the North Pole.
Imagine being picked up by an elf. Imagine elf-on-elf crime. Elves carted off in the back of police cars, their sweaters still glowing neon in the dark. Elves getting messy, knitwear against knitwear conjuring static on the dancefloor.
For many of us, this will be a reality.
And I think the only option is to go with the madness and have fun. Last year, wholly without intention of doing so, I ended up spending five consecutive nights in the Workman's Club. This year I'll be happy if I end up doing the same (the year before that I remember going to the Antics Reunion, and becoming rather weepy because I was drunk and the kids really were impossibly tanned, and I knew then that I was far too old to be there, and went home…).
I don't feel like I need alcohol for this, but it helps. The Christmas catch-up is always frenzied and chaotic and strange: that sense of being looked after by parents and magic and Santa Claus is gone, the 'children's table' long since old enough to help out with the washing up. This year, to make matters stranger, some of my favourite people have emigrated and live on the other side of the world.
And yet Dublin is a great place to be at Christmas. It's a small city and–at least in some capacity–we're looking out for each other. We're on each other's team. Embrace the native chaos, and eventually 'Fairytale of New York', and John Lennon's crooning will fade into background noise. Christmas is almost over now, anyway (next up, NYE...). Let's enjoy it while it lasts.
Thank god for Skype, and Long Island Ice Tea. Pace yourself. Drink slowly. Avoid the ungodly horror that is eggnog, and for god's sake don't go home with an elf. Friends and readers, happy Christmas, or whatever day you celebrate. Happy time off work, and see you in 2015.