I don’t think there’s any use denying it any more. The weather is cold yet the streets are packed, High Streets have been decorated with lights and banners for a couple of months now, and every day my daughter asks me the same question: ‘Mummy, how many days until it’s Christmas?’ The festive period is in full swing and Christmas Day is very nearly upon us.
I have mixed feelings about this time of year. It’s stressful. There are presents to buy yet never quite enough money, and the looming prospect of the most complicated and difficult dinner of the entire year. Then there is the extended family and the politics that come with them: a game I really don’t want to play. There is the freezing cold weather and the bitter wind from the river, which I hate and which makes my knees play up awfully (at the ripe old age of twenty-one!). There is the very real possibility of oh-so-beautiful snow that brings the bus system to a standstill (not good for somebody so reliant on public transport as I!) and soon enough turns the roads and pavements into slippery rinks of doom. Having been bombarded with advertising and lights and sparkles – Christmas this and Christmas that – since mid-September, I am just about ready to scream. I don’t even want to think about how much worse it would be if we had television adverts to add to that.
Like I said, it’s a terribly stressful time of year, and I’m a little frazzled just thinking about it all. I spend a lot of time really struggling to be festive or even remotely cheerful at the idea of it, even with the excited faces of my daughters looking up at me. I feel affronted by the baubles dangling from the ceiling in the local shopping centre. I am more than a little irritated by the fact that I have been unable to find what I want in Sainsbury’s for the last month because they keep moving things around to fit in more and more Christmas stuff.
Then it gets to this point, with a week or so to go, the Christmas holidays here, and I forget about all that. I buy the Christmas food with a little seed of excitement just beginning to grow. I think about the crafty supplies stashed behind the sofa and about what decorations I can make with the children this year – they’re a little older now, and their attention spans a little better. There’s a little panicked voice somewhere, reminding me shrilly that I haven’t organised exactly what I’ll be buying for my partner, but it doesn’t manage to shout down this growing anticipation that has appeared. I go into Sainsbury’s for a loaf of bread and the mince pies catch my eye. Bah, I think, I’ll make my own! I wonder to myself about the most exciting way to present my daughter with their gifts, and picture the smiles that will shine bright right up to their eyes.
You can see where this is going now and so can I. By the time it’s Christmas eve I’ll be just as excited and unable to sleep as the children. Well, excited at least. Having a five-month-old that doesn’t like to sleep for more than a couple of hours at a time means that I can usually sleep any time and any where I get the chance.
This is the time that I remember what Christmas is all about. I’m not a religious person. I don’t celebrate the birth of Jesus, nor does anybody close to me, but Christmas still has a great meaning for me. Despite all the commercialisation and the pressure to spend, spend, spend, Christmas is about family. It’s about taking one day of the year that is dedicated entirely to spending time together, to the love we have for each other, to making each other happy. It’s about relaxing, even if the turkey’s a little bit burnt and the potatoes haven’t browned and the veg is a little bit cool – never mind that we forgot the Yorkshire pudding completely. I suppose it doesn’t even really matter that it’s Christmas, that it’s the twenty-fifth of December, it just matters that it’s a day, one day, set aside simply to enjoy.