Every year I have these wonderful intentions of buying early for Christmas and avoiding that last-minute rush that always culminates with an over-extended credit card. And every year December arrives before I’m ready for it. From about July onwards, the months gain momentum and speed up, which is why we all need a good holiday in December.
For me, Christmas carries an associated feeling of nostalgia for childhood. Although I have now spent more Christmases in the sun than I did in the northern hemisphere winter, it still doesn’t feel right. I struggle to get that Santa magic feeling inside me. The memories of childhood traditions remain. In my memory the whole ambience was good although there were some distinctly non-fabulous moments.
One year I was the cause of my mother’s distress. It was Christmas Eve, my last Christmas at school. A group of us had been out every night carol singing. One night we went round all the villages, singing at the manor houses and stately homes. We were often invited in for a sherry and a mince pie and sometimes were asked to sing a few more carols while being accompanied on their grand piano.
The last night, Christmas Eve, we went around the local pubs. We made more money there than we had done over the previous four or five nights. I had told my parents we were going straight to midnight mass after the carols, but I omitted to tell them which church we were going to. They assumed I would go to our United Reform, the church our family attended every week. That service started at 11.30 and would be finished just after twelve.
However, a group of us decided we would go to one of the beautiful old village churches, where the service only started at midnight. The little church was packed to capacity and even now I feel excitement coming over me as I picture the candles flickering from our breath as we sang. The high roof and the lack of soft furnishing gave rise to wonderful acoustics and the two hours it took for everyone to take communion seemed to pass easily.
But when I rolled home at around two forty-five in the morning, I found Mum sitting upright in bed, angrily demanding what I had been doing. At the time I felt quite hurt that she should be so cross when I had only been to church. However, with the experience of parenthood myself, I now understand.
I have been so privileged in being able to spend every Christmas with at least one branch of my family. Never have I spent a Christmas without any children around. In an ideal world we would all be together every year, but the world is far from ideal. And I daresay even if we were all together there would be tensions created by interpersonal relationships. As the family grows, it would be unreasonable to expect everybody to be best friends with everybody else. And somehow I think as women we expect too much. We try too hard, spend too much money, and drive ourselves into a state of exhaustion. Because it’s Christmas everything must be perfect. But there are things beyond our control. There can be someone who drinks too much and offends someone else. Or there could be one couple in the middle of a domestic disagreement which causes a general tension. Or one person who hasn’t contributed or bought presents. And some who don’t know when it’s time to go home.
But of course, none of that would happen in an ideal world!