Life

Nuala McCann: Where did Christmas come from all of a sudden?

Out in the garden, there's a red, red robin. But any of that bob, bob, bobbin', and he'll be found mysteriously drowned in his own bird bath. Sorry, but it's November and couldn't Christmas shuffle off until at least December 15?

Don't you even think about chirruping a Christmas carol, mate

CHRISTMAS has snuck up behind me and is tapping me on the shoulder.

“Cards, presents, pudding, cake, mince pies, deck the friggin’ halls,” Christmas hisses in my ear.

I’m ignoring Christmas.

Out in the garden, there’s a red, red robin. But any of that bob, bob, bobbin’, and he’ll be found mysteriously drowned in his own bird bath.

Sorry, but it’s November and couldn’t Christmas shuffle off until at least December 15?

It’s complicated. It’s commercial, it’s a certain madness we could all do without.

I catch myself humming my father’s old favourite: There is a happy land, far, far away – his version veered into an ending involving three smacks upon yer bum from some Brother.

We loved when he sang that as bum was a bad word back then, strictly forbidden in our house.

He is dead 30 years, but I’ve always wondered about the relevance of the joke. It may have had a little to do with an education that involved very little sparing of the rod and spoiling of the child.

In my own happy land, all the palaver surrounding Christmas doesn’t exist. Don’t get me wrong – I love the day itself, once the dinner’s out.

Some of my best friends are taking the alternative route for the festive season – they are headed for warmer climes – to raise their faces to the glory of the sun and stuff the turkey – metaphorically of course. I can see the attraction.

It wasn’t always like this. Christmas was once so magical. But now I see that in the days of Tiny Tears and chopper bikes and a certain little toy typewriter my mother made it so.

There was the year of the miniature Christmas cakes – six little raisined delights all made by Mum – Mary Berry eat your heart out. Dad cursed the weeks of hoovering crumbs out of the carpet.

There was the year my sister got a doll and a little hair dryer to do her doll’s hair. On Christmas night, she gave the doll a bath and set her by the fire to warm. We all like to warm by the fire. But the poor doll melted. The new hair dryer was redundant.

There was the year she got a space hopper and got way too keen and bounced on a nail.

There was the first year my brother was away for Christmas – working abroad – and just as dinner was about to be served, the cook disappeared upstairs for a long time, clearly mourning her beloved first born. The rest of us sat at the table, paper hats on, knives and forks primed... just waiting, as the sprouts burned.

Long after the childhood magic faded, Christmas was great. As a student in Dublin, Christmas meant a stroll up Grafton Street on an icy night, to enjoy Switzer's Christmas window with little elves and Eskimos and fairies twinkling and waving.

Flash forward a few years, and that’s me at the office party on Christmas Eve, wearing flashing antlers, dodging the mistletoe, getting merry on cheap wine and heading off slapdash to the supermarket at 4pm where suddenly it seemed like a great idea to buy everyone boxes of cherry brandy liqueurs for presents, tra la la. That included the teetotallers.

Really, you should shop early and shop sober.

And it isn’t as if we’re back in Postman Pat days. No big boxes of plastic garages and fire stations and once, even a big grey plastic castle complete with a cannon ball run that we could only get in Hamleys, London. We went, we bought, we smuggled it on to the plane as hand luggage... it might have been cheaper to buy Blarney castle.

Our boy is a long way from a big grey plastic castle now.

But there comes a stage when, far from sitting back and enjoying the presents and the wine and my mother’s delicious stuffing – you’re doing it all yourself. Suddenly, you ARE Christmas and, of a festive morning, the smell of singed martyr drifts from the kitchen.

Also this year, Christmas just snuck up. The garden bulbs I wanted to plant were never planted and dreams of lilies and ballerina tulips and golden patches of February daffodils are just dreams.

The Christmas cake I wanted to make is still just a recipe on a typed page and a sad bag of raisins in the cupboard. Time gallops and my head is buzzing with Christmas lists. Aw shucks, somebody break open the sherry!

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