I turned around just now and saw that it’s almost Christmas! It was summer ten minutes ago. Christmas starts far too early for me. I don’t want to hear Jingle Bells playing in Boots The Chemist when I go to collect a prescription. I’m suffering with ‘flu for God’s sake! I want to be miserable.
The pressure is on us to participate in the jolly season by the end of October and Halloween is the start. Halloween was never my thing, but this year, I relented. What else could I do? My local shop was so stuffed full of witches hats, potions, masks, wands and Dracula teeth that I’d have felt like Scrooge times two if I hadn’t purchased just a few sweeties for the Trick or Treaters. My husband went even further this year. He put a candle-lit pumpkin on our balcony. It shone across the land like a beacon, calling every child in a spooky costume within a radius of ten miles to come a-knocking. The door bell rang consistently from 6pm to 10pm. I hid in the kitchen while my husband doled out sweets and smiles to the little monsters and their parents and even managed to say nice things about their costumes. He’s a saint.
Now, I am panicking about the next biggy; non-stop anxiety and FEAR until 25th December; fear that we will forget someones’ gift, get the wrong size turkey, upset the difficult relative, miss someone out on the card list, not clean the house enough; that’s a real stinker if you are my age, I can tell you.
The house has to be all things to all people at Christmas. It must have that casual, lived in look for the kids and grandkids with a huge tacky tree sprinkled with baubles like infected testicles, beer of every description in the fridge, including several bottles with names like Aunt Betty’s Socks or Dougal’s Moustache and of course, the ubiquitous Old Speckled Hen. (The romance of these beers and their crazy names are like a drug to my husband. God knows what they taste like, I haven’t the courage nor his stomach to test them.)
The house must shine with cleaned silver or silver plate, depending on your bank balance, for the older relatives and neighbours. For them, there must be tasteful decorations, so the tree and baubles have to be replaced with perhaps a single branch from a Yew, painted silver and sporting a row of tiny lights that twitter on and off at the click of a discreet switch? It stands, proclaiming its allure and chic-ness in an art pottery vase on the sideboard which is awash with – no, not Quality Street, but expensive chocolates in Georgian silver dishes (or silver plate depending on your bank balance.) For the kids and grandkids, the ground beneath any tree must be piled high with boxes in Christmas wrapping paper, the house must smell of booze and roasting fowl and the fire must always be full of logs – even when you have central heating. I have a friend who doesn’t have an open fire so she sticks a coloured photograph of a blazing hearth on the wall. The kids and animals sit in front of it. It’s Christmas!
Food is something else that has the fear factor for me, big time. Magazines at this time of year would have you believe that getting a Christmas dinner right takes the planning of an army invading a small country. You should you start this military assault in October The people who sell you the ingredients for your pudding, cake and mince-meat agree. Or like me, you can go to Waitrose and order the lot ready-made but pretend it’s all your own work; no-one will ask as I’ll make sure they are just a little bit drunk before they eat.
Pleasing the people you love is the essence of Christmas for me. It doesn’t matter to me if the Nativity story is make-believe or truth, there is something so magical about watching small children playing an angel with a pair of wings that took some poor mum or grandma all night to make, or a six-year-old playing Mary, clutching the baby doll a doting aunt gave her last Christmas, or a chubby four-year-old Wise Man with an upturned flower-pot covered in foil on his head. The faces of children in Nativity plays at hundreds of schools around the country will be etched into their parent’s minds for ever.
I love the feeling that a winter night creates when you walk down a street and peer into windows to see all the Christmas trees, their lights blinking on and off like demented UFO’s. It’s wondrous. It’s knowing that others want to make their loved ones happy, too. The sad part about all of this, is that we are sometimes persuaded to forget the real sentiments of Christmas and turn it into a consumer fest that leaves a cold hole in your heart and debts that last through the year. Finding the balance in your life and in your bank account takes real skill these days. It’s so easy to get swept away by the hype, as I was by Halloween this year.
So, to tell you the truth, I have made my Christmas pudding on a glorious Saturday a week ago, with my two little granddaughters helping me to stir it and hide the twenty pence piece in the mixture (it was an old sixpence in my childhood) What a wonderful afternoon it was. Non stop chatter with questions like ‘Is God real, Nanna?’ and ‘Where is Jesus now?’ to more profound ones like ‘When will you die?’ and ‘Why does Granddad have hair in his ears?’ Now where else would you find time to answer such questions except while supervising tiny fingers chopping dried fruit for a Christmas pudding?
It’s easy to forget that many will be alone at Christmas. It may be me one day. I’m very conscious that every moment spent with family and friends is precious and I relish such times. If I am ever alone, I know that the memories will nourish me. Happy Holidays!