Only in Ireland can things be allowed to go so far that the people who sell us drink are the ones who tell us when we’ve had enough.
But that’s just what happened this week when one Dublin publican called a halt to the annual Christmas jumper and vomit fest that is the 12 pubs of Christmas. Not to sound too Scrooge-like about it, but – 12 pubs? Bah, humbug.
It’s not enough that we embarrass ourselves as a nation every 17 March, as American majorettes look around, shell-shocked, at the post-parade carnage.
It’s not enough that we’ve added a fake counterpoint to that celebration in September, in the shape of that most cynical of festivals, Arthur’s Day.
Now Christmas has joined the merry-go-round of alcohol-focussed festivals that see us competing to see who can drink most, fastest.
There’s nothing wrong with a Christmas party, a few festive drinks, or even with the now-ubiquitous Christmas jumper. But when did 12 drinks become a normal amount to imbibe on a night out?
For the uninitiated, the 12 pubs of Christmas is a pub crawl that must take in 12 pubs, in each of which you must have an alcoholic drink. It often involves Christmas jumpers, and other challenges, such as collecting – also known as stealing – a ‘souvenir’ from each hostelry.
Who decided this was a Christmas tradition? And how did we all somehow fall for the notion that it was normal?
The owner of the Swan pub on Aungier St pointed out to a newspaper this week that publicans are legally obliged not to serve somebody who is already inebriated. That might be news to a lot of us.
The fact that it took someone who sells alcohol for a living to point this out is rather disappointing, but then, if you’re looking for leadership on this country’s alcohol problems, you’ll be looking a while.
From a Taoiseach being inebriated on morning radio, to serving up pints of Guinness to every dignitary who happens to land on Irish soil, the culture of over-indulging is so ingrained in Irish life that we really have no concept of what is acceptable by ‘normal’ standards. It’s only when you drink with people from other countries that you realise our culture of necking pints and downing shots is totally unnatural.
In the last year for which statistics were available – 2007 – alcohol related problems cost the country €3.7 billion. That’s about a quarter of the total health budget.
A quarter of all Irish adults binge drink (six standard drinks in a short period) every week, according to Alcohol Action Ireland. Given that a fifth don’t drink at all, that’s a substantial proportion of those who drink who binge regularly. Over half of all Irish drinkers have what is termed a ‘harmful pattern’ of drinking (4/10 women and 7/10 men who drink).
Drinkhelp.ie has a handy calculator in which you can add up your units. In a typical ‘12 pubs’ spree, you might start off on cider in the first four pubs, moving on to four alcopops, and then four spirits. That’s 22 units, or 145% of the low risk weekly drinking limit.
In other words, 12 drinks in one night is high risk drinking. Without mixers, it’s also the calorie equivalent of eating one kebab, a serving of potato wedges, two slices of pizza, two rashers, an onion bhaji, and two jaffa cakes, over a few hours.
At this time of year, when mental health is particularly fragile due to the dark days and the myriad stressors that affect each of us so differently, it’s worth remembering the effect of alcohol on our minds, too. Alcohol is a depressant, and is a factor in one-third of suicides.
This year saw much of the media and the public turn on Arthur’s Day. We saw through the cynicism, took it for what it was, and decided not to be a part of that. It was a marketing ploy, it worked for a while, and now the publicity department of Diageo will have to come up with something else.
The 12 pubs of Christmas – wherever it originated – is less marketing and more mass hysteria. Don’t buy into that, either.
From The Herald, Wednesday 12 December
Update: There’s been so much comment on this, I think it’s time for a poll!