This year I attended the 19th Christmas Eve Dartford Pub Crawl. These events take place all around the country, in cities, towns and villages. Ours started around a pub table in 1998, as my friends and I prepared to sit our A-Levels all of those many moons ago. What started as youthful vim and an excuse to over-egg the Christmas spirit, has now become a fixture in many of our annual calendars. Why hasn’t it died out? Many of my friends, like me, have wives, girlfriends and children; yet the desire to make the lengthy trip to Crayford and Dartford, continues unabated.
Don’t get me wrong, there is a small part of me that would rather not sit at home on Christmas Eve, watching relentless seasonal films and programmes. There is still a palpable excitement as we move towards Christmas Day, despite me moving ever closer to the ripe old age of 40. These days though, the thought of tearing open a brand new X-Box or a pair of Air Jordan’s does not really do it for me. Making sure my kids, wife and Mum enjoy Christmas is more the focal point. However, this idyllic picture I would like to paint about my seasonal goodwill doesn’t completely ring true. Christmas Eve and a few pints at the pub crawl is in fact, ‘my time,’ but it is interesting to note, as our lives have moved apart physically and metaphorically, why it is my friends and I still make the pilgrimage back.
If it was all about pre-Christmas drinks, my wife and I were lucky to have other offers nearer to home. I daresay some of my school friends did too, so why did we all rock up together in the watering holes of North-West Kent, to see in Christmas Day? ‘It is traditional. An actual Christmas tradition,’ argues one of my longest-standing school friends. A man whose parent’s phone number I still have memorised and who manages to see his Mum, Dad and two brothers, who all make the effort to come out for part of the day.
He may be right; it may be a tradition. But part of me believes there is something more sacred to the meet up than that. Christmas can often become a time of great emptiness for many. Alongside, perceived bonhomie and jolliness, runs a sadness and pressure that is felt by many. The cost of Christmas is felt by all, but some more than others, with suicide rates increasing at this time of year. In fact, it is more accurate to state that suicide rates actually surge in January, rather than at Christmas; perhaps when the cold, financial reality really hits home.
I guess each member of the Christmas Eve Pub Crawl in Dartford, has their own reason for their attendance. It is my belief that the few hours spent catching up with old friends in warm, homely pubs is something quite spiritual and sacred to us Brits. Some meditate, our Scandinavian counterparts fall under the spell of Hygge, the Scots believe Cosagach is the next big thing. In a society where the state has crumbled in place of corporations and religion has fallen by the wayside, where do we get some much-needed nourishment for the soul?
Next year sees the 20th anniversary of the Dartford Pub Crawl. In those years, we have seen people come and go, new different faces join and other friendship groups take up the challenge. As long as I am in the country, I will be there. No matter how difficult the journey becomes, some traditions are more than worth the effort.