A. A. Gill died today, three weeks after announcing that he was living with, and dying from, multiple cancers. His colleagues, friends, and some enemies, are paying tribute to his personal kindness and his writing ability. I pray for him, and all his family.
As we prepare for Advent 3, and the world is full of ItFeelsABitLikeXmas hashtags, I thought I would reproduce this article he wrote for The Spectator in 1997, which I have treasured (and often preached on!) ever since then:
‘A Three-Act Farce’ by A. A. Gill (The Spectator, 8 November 1997, p 36)
The truth is that Christmas dinner is potentially the worst meal of the year, unless you are American, in which case Thanksgiving is worse. Convention, sentimentality and the Germans have contrived to invent a hybrid meal that flouts good taste, digestion and the resources of even a well-appointed kitchen. For a start, the modern turkey is a hideous bird. It doesn’t matter if it’s bronze, black, white, free-range or had a public school education, no amount of tricks and stuffings and handy one-to-ten tips is going to make it taste anything other than turkey. Then there are the 27 side dishes and bits and pieces that have to be produced with it: potatoes and sprouts and carrots and parsnips and chestnuts and sausages and bacon and bread sauce and cranberry sauce and gravy. And that is before you even get inside the bloody thing; then there’s more sausagemeat and sage and onion … No one, not even Keith Floyd, would invent that as a main dinner course from scratch. There are far too many strident flavours that contradict one another and the textures are all the same.
… The truth is that anyone who knows anything about cooking wouldn’t touch Christmas dinner with a ten-foot Christmas tree. That leaves the rest of you who gird your loins and get out of a warm bed at four in the morning to stick your hand up a cold, dead, bird’s bum and try to fit 27 pans onto four gas-rings. This is the worst bit about Christmas dinner: it’s cooked by people who don’t do anything more demanding in their kitchens than open a packet and throw the odd plate from Boxing Day to Hallowe’en, but come December suddenly decide to climb an epicurean Everest. And you don’t get a practice run — it’s not as if all these ingredients are familiar; they only come out once a year.
And yet and yet — even as I write this it rings hollow. Every year I say it’s going to be beef or pork or goose or venison or anything else followed by apple pie or trifle, but I know that when it actually comes to it I’ll lose my nerve and, just like the foolish folk who don’t know any better, I’ll be flogging round the shops on the 22nd looking for a bronze bird and a proper stilton and be up until three a.m. picking through currants, because if you eat anything else it’s just another day and Christmas isn’t just another day, it’s Christmas. …
There is one good thing about Christmas dinner and appalling mess and work and the people you have got to share it with; it proves that God has a sense of humour. I mean, who else’s deity would contrive to celebrate the holiest day of the way that way? Hindus get lentils, Muslims get fresh air; the Jews have boiled eggs in salt water. We Christians get a three-act farce where you have to wear a paper hat.
Actually there is one thing you should eat at Christmas; it’s the original fast food. It only takes a second but is harder to prepare for than anything: a sliver of unleavened bread and a sip of wine. Oddly in all the Christmas articles I’ve had to write, this is the first time I’ve thought to recommend it.
May he rest in peace, and rise to the glory of the Lord’s Table.