I really like Christmas but I think – maybe like a lot of people, I like the season more than the day. I like the run up to it all, the lights, the buzz in town, the excitement. I love talking to kids about it and seeing their excitement at Santa’s visit, or that little conspiratorial smile that hints that they ‘know’. I love catching up with friends, making excuses to see people I don’t see half enough of. I love the little flashes of kindness, the fund-raisers, the cake sales, the dips-in-the-nip. The times when people try a little harder to make someone else’s day a little easier.
As a child, Christmas always started with puddings being made and the appearance of a homemade Christmas cake. Over the passing weeks the defenceless marzipan was nibbled, smoothed, re-nibbled and re-smoothed until my mother iced it and made it respectable again. A little pile of exotic treats was stashed in the dining room. A box of Tayto, bottles of soft drinks, tonic water. One year a large box of Satsumas appeared. Myself and my sister couldn’t resist the smell of them and sat behind the piano eating the skins of as many of them as we could in one sitting. It seemed like a great idea at the time.
I remember our annual pilgrimage to see Santa in Dunnes Stores at Cornelscourt. We’d stand in-line for what seemed like hours with half of the rest of South County Dublin. We were whingy kids (read ‘assholes’) so by the time we even met an Elf, I’d imagine my mother wondered why, oh why, she’d brought this nightmare on herself once more. We’d shuffle through and meet Santa, grumble ungraciously about what we’d like. Presumably there would be mild panic as my mother listened out for any shock additions or budget busters. We’d stand for the photo – a very expensive Polaroid if I recall, and someone always made one of those ‘miserable bastard‘ faces. Cue more despair for my mother. We’d scarper then, with a Fuzzy Felt, plastic soldier set or jigsaw under our arms, and a pack of funsize Smarties (always Smarties) to munch as we headed off to pick a new outfit.
I remember the real tree, covered in fifty billion largely homemade decorations. Thanks to some extremely effective advertising by the Fire Brigade there were no lights but the smell of that tree as you walked in the door was just the epitome of Christmas for me. Over the years we tried everything from damp towels to saucers of water to keep those damned trees from shedding their needles but to no avail and by the third week of December there were always bald patches that had to be rotated towards the back window. I remember the give-away sound of the needles dropping on wrapping paper as I tried to slide a gift out for a sneaky shake or a surgical opening. That noise, and the disaster of not being able to find the end of the Sellotape roll in a hurry, almost saw me busted on many occasions.
I remember Christmas Eve, when as soon as it got dark we headed to our neighbours where we nibbled on peanuts and got soft drinks, but really ached to get home and get ready for bed. Our neighbours’ kids were much older, teenagers by then, and they’d sit down and ask us what Santa was bringing before bailing out the door to head off and meet their friends. I remember crossing the road wishing my parents would stop nattering and let us get in the door. I remember the smell of the ham boiling while we had a cosy tea, and the fact that it took forever to tidy up. I remember the pains in my legs from excitement before heading up the stairs for a bath and bed. I remember lying for hours unable to sleep.
I remember the false-starts on Christmas morning and being sent back to bed with the warning that if he was interrupted Santa would leave us nothing. I remember the feel of the stocking (an actual sock) hanging at the end of bed filled with a can of coke, chocolate and a satsuma (really, I wasn’t the brightest), and knowing it was showtime. I remember opening the door into the sitting room and figuring out whose pile was whose. Fueled by the Coke, the mania of delight and disappointment always had someone laughing and someone crying. Poor Santa had a hard job keeping expectations and budgets in-line.
Oh dear. Beautiful heavily patterened, highly sugared Christmas moment proving my children can blame genetics for their own whingy natures
I remember the outfits – the good and the bad. The walk to mass and the impatience of waiting for my mum to come down from the choir loft before racing home to get back to new toys. The endless snacking on sweets and the delight that we could watch telly all throughout the day. The highlighted movies in the paper and the fights over who was recording what and when. The Christmas Day Top of the Pops when we itched to know what made it to Number 1 and the delight that favourites like Ghostbusters, Back to the Future and Home Alone could be watched over and over. I remember the dinners which were too stiff, too stressful and sadly, too often my least favourite part of the day.
I remember Christmas changing. The first year I ‘knew’. The first Christmas Eve I decided that I didn’t want to go across the road, and how I regretted it afterwards. The first year when my parents had to beg three disgruntled teenagers to get out of bed and share in their younger brother’s Christmas morning. The first year I got offered wine at the table. The first year I didn’t have to go to mass, or even pretend to. The first year everyone slept in. The first year someone was missing from the table. The first year when we ‘helped out’ and made dinner not realising my Mum secretly felt utterly miserable that she wasn’t cooking. The first year I didn’t go home. The first year I spent Christmas with my own little family.
Six years on, we’re figuring out what parts of the new and old we like at Christmas. The build up is the usual mix of nights out, family get-togethers and visits to Santa. We’ve got our own ‘miserable bastard’ star of the 2014 family photo, and I can attest to feeling the ‘why do we bother’ feeling at least twice already. But I love it, I love making it ours and I love knowing that so many more lie ahead.
This is a contribution to a blog link being hosted by the lovely Naomi aka Dr. How over at www.sciencewows.ie. Naomi writes a great blog all about the wonders of science from a kids perspective as well as personal posts that always make me laugh, cry or, at the very least, nod along. Head over to Naomi’s link up and have a read of some other contributions to this lovely festive linky.