Repeatedly being told it’s the most wonderful time of the year may seem, in our politically ravaged age, somewhat counter intuitive; goading, almost, in its insistence on sheer, sherried up joy as the world appears to fall apart around us. But look a little closer - past the Brexit stalemate, of no deals and no contingency plans and cries of no hope and, you just might find, things aren’t quite as gloomy as first thought. For example:
Normal people are back in fashion
Stacey Dooley’s triumph in Strictly Come Dancing proved, as Harry Redknapp’s victory in I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here! had a week earlier, that showbiz showboats are out, and salt-of-the-earth sorts are in. Dooley was long the people’s favourite: one of the few finalists who hadn’t had prior dance training and, with an easy charm and no-frills attitude matched by that of her partner, Kevin Clifton, swiftly took up residence in the nation’s hearts.
Redknapp had done similar in ITV’s outback-based extravaganza, his partnership of 51 years with wife Sandra, who he met aged 17 in their local pub, warming our collective cockles sufficiently to see him crowned king of the jungle. Tales of this romance - and all of those created by cult hit Love Island during the summer, some of which are still going strong - have been just the antidote to our dysfunctional relationship with Brussels.
And this has been bolstered still by the news that romance has made its way to Strictly, too, with finalist Joe Sugg confirming that, while he didn’t lift the glitterball trophy, he “won something a million times more special” in the shape of his professional partner, Diane Buswell, instead. Saccharine, yes, but we’ll take it.
Grinches begone: while denying festive glee remains the preserve of ‘cool’ types for whom joy is demodé, the sight of tinsel-strewn trees, a tower of mince pies and Mariah Carey on the radio telling us what she wants for Christmas for the millionth time offer a certain kind of comfort - particularly when everything else seems so utterly beyond our control.
Yes, much of this festive cheer is manufactured, but a huge amount isn’t - the genuine delight of catching up with friends you never quite manage to see year-round; of a fully stocked Christmas fridge, the shelves full-to-bursting with goodies you only indulge in during December; of drinking and clinking and not worrying about the ramifications of a few too many of a Tuesday evening because it’s the season, there’s festive booze aplenty, and if not now, when?
High on hope
True, it feels a very, very long time ago now, but the summer of 2018 - national mirth at an England squad actually capable of kicking a ball, the sun shining, improbably, for weeks on end - not only served to fortify our spirits a as the months have got colder, but also filled us with optimism that the next might hold equally exciting things in store. With the eighth iteration of the FIFA Women’s World Cup in June, and the Met Office predicting baking summers for years to come, we can expect an equally jubilant 2019. Just switch everything off and lie in a dark room come 29 March.
From Fergie to the Spice Girls and Tiger Woods, this year has been replete with comebacks, reminding us of the many people who, though we once spurned them for inappropriate trotter-based behaviour, awkward lip synching and besmirching their own reputation by becoming washed up love rats, have somehow found their way back into the public’s good books again.
Prince Andrew’s ex back has hurtled back onto form thanks to an unreasonably good relationship with her former husband, her role in the (other) royal wedding and, most importantly, the amazing motivation she doles out via Instagram, whether on self-confidence (‘fluff up your feathers and be a peacock today’), diet tips (‘you can find the jelly beans within yourself… you don’t have to eat the jelly beans’) or the barrels of ‘so proud’ captions on pictures of her daughters, making the Duchess of York the epitome of down-but-not-out this year.
Read all about it
As Mary Poppins Returns, the Emily Blunt-fronted update on the 1964 classic released this week looks set to break box office records, it is not just the silver screen but books, too, that are seeing our renewed affections. In the UK, sales of hardbacks shot up some 31 per cent in 2017, while we spent £5.7bn on tomes overall - a five per cent increase on the year prior. In an ever digitising world, there’s solace, surely, in the notion that sometimes, the old stuff really is the best - and that some ‘outdated’ industries really might last the course.
From Michelle Obama’s Becoming to Normal People by Sally Rooney, books - ones you can hold in your hands, devour before bed and thumb through over and over - are brilliant again, dominating water cooler chat like they haven’t in a long while. And there’s still time to dole out a few of your favourites as Christmas gifts, too.
Power to the planet
We’ll be honest: the war on meat, plastic and other things we previously consumed without a second thought has been a learning curve. But we should take heart at the growing waves of people who care about the state of things beyond their - our - own little bubbles. The ‘Blue Planet Effect’, so called after David Attenborough’s documentary at the beginning of the year, which charted the wrenching effects of poorly disposed of plastic on our oceans, has served as an ethical domino, pushing single use iterations of the stuff towards extinction, with the government launching a consultation on banning the likes of non-recyclable cotton buds and straws come the end of next year.
And in further power-to-the-planet-isms, seven per cent of Brits are now vegan, compelled by concerns over what animal farming does to our environment to make the switch. Though virtue signalling over ditching these things might occasionally seem like an Olympic sport, if it’s helping someone or something, it can’t be so bad.
Sexist adverts are out, courtesy of new watchdog guidelines, a raft of older public figures appear to be in ruder health than ever before (hi, Noel Edmonds) and Nigella Lawson is fighting the good (albeit almost unthinkably archaic) fight to stop TV production companies airbrushing her stomach on the occasions it looks anything other than pancake flat. All of which we can take to mean that it is becoming, very slowly, okay to feel good about ourselves, whatever that looks like. If a 220 stone cow called Knickers that looms above its bovine pals can become an icon, what’s stopping the rest of us?