A Christmas Note

25 Dec
Santa Bob

Santa Bob says “Happy Christmas”

Credit cards maxed? More food in the fridge than you could possibly eat in a month? Wizzard belting “I Wish It Could Be Christmas” for the 1000th time this month? Dreading the social interaction with family members you can’t stand over the next couple of days? Anxiously searching for gifts to pass on to folk who have arrived unannounced armed with gifts you weren’t expecting? Yup, welcome to Christmas.

For one day a year everybody goes a little bit crazy it seems, as 99% of retailers close up for 24 hours, piling their shopping trollies up to overflowing lest Santa brings a world-ending apocalypse. And during the chaos it is very easy to loose sight of the important things, and one’s sanity.

While I’ve not been shopping much this year, I paid a couple of visits to the supermarket this week, wandering round a perfectly calm Connswater in East Belfast on Monday chatting to my brother on the phone who was stuck in a 20 minute queue in Newtownards. Yesterday – Christmas Eve for goodness sake – I braved the Newtownards Tesco, only to find it considerably quieter than most Saturday afternoons. There was even fresh turkeys still available – something that in other years would be unthinkable.

I’ve found myself growing more cynical as the years flow by. I’ve seen too many people get caught up in the social pressures of gift giving, and running themselves into serious debt trying to provide an idealised perfect Christmas, or trying to ensure their already spoilt children aren’t left out in the playground. As my own finances have fluctuated over the last decade I’ve had years where I’ve given nothing, years where I’ve made personalised gifts, where I’ve been able to give something small, and a few where I actually had substantial cash and made a bit of a fuss. So I do appreciate the varying feelings involved and the associated pressures.

I had a go at parenting for a while, and have a much better appreciation for the pressures my own folk must have gone through. There’s nothing more frustrating than going the extra mile to get some expensive present that a child has bleated on about, only to find it disregarded and shoved on a shelf within a fortnight and never looked at again. Quite what I’ll take from that should I ever be in that position again, I don’t know. Probably over-indulge when I can afford to, because, well that’s what you do isn’t it?

Christmas 1987 - that's me with my goodies

Christmas 1987 – that’s me with my goodies

That said, there are certain gifts which still bring me to tears and which I treasure dearly, or which just bring back memories when I see them – of people and places long passed. I still have my Wrinkles stuffed puppet dog, which I got when I was six or seven years old – probably the oldest gift I can recall. He’s a bit tired now – his dungarees all torn – but still much loved.

Oddly enough, that was probably the last Christmas like this one – just mum and dad, me and my brother Jonny at home on Christmas morning (my other siblings weren’t then born, and this year are rightly spending this morning with their own families).  There’s a very different atmosphere today – somewhat more subdued. No obligation to get up at the crack of dawn and pester our folks for three or four hours trying to get them to come downstairs so we can see if Santa has been, and then to be tortured further with an insistence that we should have breakfast first. I do miss the buzz, but this is a transitional year for me – just to be in the company of family and friends is enough. As I said elsewhere during the week, the only presents I’m interested in is the presence of people.

Its the first year for a while that I’m not cooking the Christmas dinner either – I did offer – but then I guess I’m a guest in someone else’s house again. More than anything, I miss engaging in the mystical chemistry and military precision needed to bring the vegetables and meat out at the same time. Maybe this time next year I’ll be back in a gaff of my own.

More than anything I’m appreciating the love of friends and family this year – and that really is what Christmas should be about (for those that don’t actually follow a Christian faith at any rate). I’ve had a lovely couple of days in the company of some of my favourites, and there’s a couple more I hope to see before ushering in 2014. I hope that you all have that in your lives too.

Happy Christmas xox

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