I made a Christmas cake at the weekend. Here’s why I like making Christmas cake:
1) When I was at college far away Mum would make an extra one, and then give me half of it to take back with me after Christmas, and it’s that sort of a thing: a labour of love, packed full of sustaining things. ‘If you can’t afford to pay for any heating at least you’ll have a half-moon of masses of fruit jammed together sat in the bottom of your rucksack’ goes the thinking. She still makes an extra one and gives half to my brother, who lives in York and not actually in the trenches. But I recognise the urge from when I pack my kids’ packed lunches for school: ‘I can’t be there if you fall over, but maybe this flapjack will remind you that I love you, if you do.’ And the thing about a Christmas cake is that no one but the maker realises what a palaver it is, which makes it extra mum.
2) I like the fact that so many people tackle it, that everyone feels the same, about their mum making it, and their nana before, and so feels like it is a part of their thing. It isn’t a hard thing to make per se, but like I say: palaver. The buying of the million bits of fruit, the wrapping with newspaper, the fashioning of a funny hat with a hole so the top doesn’t burn and the incredibly long slow cooking (mine took SIX hours). I like that there is no celebrity ‘my take on’ or ‘three ways with’ required to spur us into doing it. It just is. We always have.
3) And I love that this so very British, cosy, sustaining, ingrained thing comes from so many other places, and that our Christmas traditions are impossible to extricate from our history of connection, travel and openness with the rest of the world. Raisins from Turkey, sultanas from Iran, cinnamon from Sri Lanka. That thought reminded me of this snippet of film from the house of commons this week, in which the wonderful Dennis Skinner takes on UKIP’s newest MP, and talks proudly of his ‘United Nations heart by pass’. It is 51 seconds that will lift your own heart, and a good reminder what a bullshit version of Great Britain UKIP is peddling. There are lots of things that are only here because of our mixed up, complex, outwards-facing history. Dennis Skinner and Christmas cake are among them.