As every media outlet has been repeatedly telling us, 2016 has been a terrible year. I can’t really argue with that. Uncertainty has been the watch word and it’s no surprise that post-truth is both the Oxford dictionary and the German word of the year (Post-faktisch). With the 2016 finish line in sight and trepidation for 2017 building, we are all seeking a stabiliser, a little something to cling to in the storm. For those lucky enough, Christmas can provide some semblance of stability. As I write this, I’m waiting for my own Christmas life raft to arrive in the form of my annual Christmas pilgrimage to the haven of lost souls, Newcastle upon Tyne. Although I would hardly describe the Toon as static, I know there are a few things I can expect, even if the last twelve months have been a faeces filled doughnut of a year.
Geordies know the Christmas season is well under way when the walk down Northumberland Street and hear the tinny warbling of Christmas songs and the sound of hyperactive voice actors blaring from the speakers affixed to the Fenwick department store windows. Every year, one of the largest department stores in Newcastle uses the street facing windows, usually reserved for autumn fashions and Jaime Oliver cookware, to put on an automated Christmas show that would make even the iciest hearts melt. Residents of the city queue, in an orderly fashion, to watch the repetitive movements of various Christmas stories play out in a series of window displays. It might not reach the heights of Disney World, but the chance to see woodland creatures give presents to each other or the characters of the Wizard of Oz meeting Santa has drawn thousands of people since it’s inaugural window in 1971. Brexit might mean Brexit, but for a few minutes every year Geordies can stare at dead eyed automatons and feel a little bit Christmasy.
Although often connected to the Irish community, having “the crack” (or craic) is an important aspect of being a Geordie. This is to say that Geordies have the inherent ability to conduct amusing and entertaining discussions at will, often to a chorus of laughter. You might think your region is funny or clever, or even entertaining but I all I know is that Newcastle has more crack than New York in the 80s. Boxing day is an especially fruitful time for finding “good crack”, as the bars and pubs fill up to celebrate, well, anything you want. One of the worst insults that can be thrown is to accuse someone of having “bad crack” or worst still “nee crack”. Be prepared, when someone asks you “What’s the crack?” you better have an answer or suffer the worst verbal barrage you will ever face, but in a canny way.
The Toon Army
Speaking of Boxing day, since England doesn’t have to suffer through the winter football breaks that other European countries thrust upon their populations, Christmas football is really something to look forward to. Some might stay at home or watch in the pub, but those lucky enough get to enjoy the spectacle of 22 grown men kicking a ball around in the flesh. None are more lucky than the Toon army, the faithful fans of Newcastle United. Admittedly, lucky would probably be one of the last words to use when describing NUFC, considering we were relegated last season, but 7 months on things are looking decidedly more positive. With the Toon top of the Championship and fans displaying uncharacteristic optimism, visitors to Newcastle could do worse than visit St James’s Park on the 26th December. That is of course if you can actually get a ticket, with Newcastle packing fans in. 52,000 Geordies signing in unison should be enough to blow the Christmas day hangover away.
Black Eye Friday
Bar workers of the world are united on one point, the last Friday before Christmas is easily the worst day to work in the hospitality industry. Black eye Friday welcomes those people who rarely venture into the cities drinking establishments, often on office Christmas parties. What ensues is bedlam, as naive office workers forget their mild mannered natures and proceed to drink like they were still 21. Although Geordies are hardy drinkers, even the best are susceptible to too many sambucas. More often than not this has a habit of ending in a black eye, thus the name. With Christmas falling on a Sunday this year, we could be in for a double bout of drunken idiocy on the last two Fridays before the 25th. I for one will be avoiding it, but knowing it is still going on is unnerving, yet reliable.
Something Set on Fire
Ok, so this is a national tradition, but Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without someone setting a Christmas pudding ablaze. Arguments might persist over the best method of cooking a Christmas pudding; my mother argues that it must be done in the pressure cooker and my brother calmly explains why he doesn’t want a potential death trap involved in the cooking process. Either way, once it’s done, the pudding will be doused in alcohol and set on fire. Nothing says festive like the smell of burnt hair.