Illustration: Eleanor Shakespeare


Christmas means guilt-free drinking. And that makes me nervous

We come together over fizz each Christmas, says Marisa Bate. But where does that leave you when fizz is neither friend nor foe, but a more problematic on-off love affair?

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By Marisa Bate on

So, here we are. December once again. Presents and dinners and glitter and deadlines and buying wrapping paper on lunch breaks and fairy lights and the Liberty card hall and candlelit carol services and karaoke and wine. So much wine. Maybe fizz, maybe both. But definitely a drink. And with all the panic of the world ending, your diary fills up quicker than your glass and, every night for a month, there’s a reason to have another drink.

And, for someone who carries their wine demons around with them like a small hidden hip flask, this really *is* the most wonderful time of the year, because now everyone always wants a drink – which is precisely how you feel all the time but, for this 30-day window, it's suddenly acceptable: a glass of wine with lunch, a second bottle on a Thursday night, champagne on a Sunday, by Christmas morning you’re actually having the stuff for breakfast. But it’s also not the most wonderful time of the year, because you’ll be slightly nervous about how far you’re allowed to go – like a dog off a leash with a squirrel in their sights, anything could happen. And that’s what you love about wine – it’s a tonic that opens doors to strangers and strange parties and unpredicted nights and fierce, funny and wild conversation. It’ll be like on the first night away at university. Sleeping in a single bed and hearing voices outside my room, I suddenly realised, for the first time in my life, I could do anything. There was no one to tell me otherwise. And that's how December feels for me and my wine demons. We’re off the leash.  

And I’m not sure that’s such a great thing when you’re like me. When wine is problematic because, aged 32, you’ve still not learnt to say no. And you feel a little itch in the back of your mind when you want to suggest a drink, but it’s Monday evening and everyone else just wants to go home. And you still get off the bus a stop early and traipse to Sainsbury's to buy a bottle of wine because the very act of holding the bottle in your hand makes you feel a little bit calmer, a little bit more in control. And when wine is still the thing you celebrate with, commiserate with, de-stress with, catch up with, reward yourself with, comfort yourself with, when wine still plays this role in your life, Christmas is tricky territory. Like skating on thin ice, it’s marvellous when all is going to plan and you’re flying through the air, party dress, champagne, the cold, bright twinkle of a Christmas party, but it’s a painful fallout if the cracks starts to show and you’re in a heap on the floor, crumpled dress and smudged mascara.

I’m nervous that cheap white wine will get the better of me, like it has done so many times before

Two Decembers ago, I was basically pirouetting through east London pubs, night after night, friend after friend. Somehow in December, we all find more stamina, as if hangovers and lack of sleep and bad skin and bad food are an unavoidable part of the survival course to get us to Christmas Eve, when we’re back on our mum’s sofa. And, that December, I was fully prepared. No hangover could stop me. So, I battled on, wine in hand, twirling and twirling until it I tripped and fell and found myself in a place I’d never intended to get to, waking up in a bed I never intended to be in, on a morning I’d much rather forget.

And so, when December comes around, I become nervous. I become nervous of letting my hair down and letting my guard down and letting all the sensible things I know about moderation fly out of the window. I’m nervous that the calmer and more considered and more sober me who exists from January to November (sort of, mostly) will disappear, go missing, turn her phone off and won’t show up till New Year’s Day. I’m nervous that Shelby, my drunk alter ego who wants to live on a beach and write poetry, will turn up, like a crazy ex who is still so tempting because you’re drunk and you’re starting to forget why you broke up in the first place. I’m nervous that cheap white wine will get the better of me, like it has done so many times before.

Christmas is my trigger because, ultimately, it eradicates the shame. It takes away the worry that you’re the only one with a hangover again, someone else is topping up your glass, someone else is buying a bottle. It allows you to drink guilt-free – and guilt can be useful brakes when you’re headed down a path you already know you’ll regret later. But it’s also my trigger because there aren’t many more magical things – in my life, at least – than sitting round a table with the people I like most in the world. And round that table, our culture, our society has always placed a bottle, slap bang in the middle. If civilizations grew up around a fire, I’m pretty sure that modern Britain grew up around a bottle of wine or maybe a couple of pints. We come together over fizz each Christmas, but where does that leave you when fizz is neither friend nor foe, but a more problematic on-off love affair?

This Christmas, I want to enjoy a drink like I enjoy fairy lights on a tree – a passing pleasant buzz that signifies a time of year; not, for once, a free pass to God knows where.


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Illustration: Eleanor Shakespeare
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Marisa Bate

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