Life

Nuala McCann: I don't hate Christmas, just the perfect bronze turkey and best ever trifle

There was the year everyone got chocolate liqueurs because that is all I could think of at 4pm on Christmas Eve after a boozy work do. I don't even like cherry brandy and neither did many of the teetotallers who received them

I always snitch a little straw as I say hello to Baby Jesus

THEY call me the Grinch of Christmas. December finds me pacing about under a black cloud, muttering about what to get whom and strewing our lives with lists.

I used to love it, I tell my best friend. I really did. I loved friends calling and the smell of my mother’s Dundee Cake baking in the oven. I’d help her steep the almonds in milk and slip them out of their brown jackets to go on top of the cake.

I was chief cake icer too – American frosting was once a speciality and there was a traditional robin decoration that sat on top of the cake.

I was never so fond of the big turkey hanging upside down from a hook in the garage with its head and its feathers intact, waiting to be disembowelled.

“And where are you going, Miss?” it hissed, fixing its black bead of an eye on me as I sneaked out the back door of an evening.

But the cards and the carols and that midnight Mass where we all egged my sister on to sing and then laughed at her when she did. How cruel was that? Those traditions are precious.

Taking a little straw from the Christmas manger and keeping it in your pocket, is a good way of ensuring that you’ll not run short in the year ahead. I always snitch a little as I say hello to Baby Jesus.

There was the year my mother thought she’d left the pressure cooker on and agonised about how many fire engines might have rolled up at the door when we got home from Midnight Mass. How were we to know that as she was on her knees deep in fervent prayer, she was praying for the kitchen not to blow up.

Still, she never left the church, she sat on her fear hard. And it was all fine.

The year I remembered at communion time on Christmas Eve in one church that I was the one that was meant to deliver all the altar breads to another church 45 miles away for Christmas Eve... and I’d forgotten completely... oops. I’m hoping that was fine in a loaves and fishes kind of way.

The year everyone got chocolate liqueurs for Christmas because that is all I could think of at 4pm on Christmas Eve after a very boozy work do. I don’t even like cherry brandy and neither did many of the teetotallers who received them.

Memories are made of my mother’s apricot stuffing to die for, all of us gathered around the table – dinner timed for after Top Of The Pops and Bohemian Rhapsody as the Christmas number one, the post-dinner walk around the graveyard with my father – lest ye forget – and Morecambe and Wise on the television later.

So what’s the difference?

“You loved Christmas til you realised that now you ARE Christmas,” my friend reminds me.

As a wife and a mother, you end up doing Christmas. That’s where all the notes and the lists and the food buying and the whole craziness of it all comes from.

My friend was the one who told me about the whiff of singed martyr wafting from the kitchen on Christmas Day. I don’t hate Christmas. I just hate the fuss and the tat and the crowds.

I hate people thinking life is about making perfect memories. I hate the perfect bronze turkey and the best ever trifle.

I hate people losing it in supermarket car parks over a parking space or coming to blows over the last bag of Brussels sprouts – yes, there truly was blood on the vegetables that day.

But settle me down on Christmas Eve, find me a pew an hour early in the chapel because it is inevitably packed and let me sit still. Then all is fine and all manner of things shall be fine. It’s not that I’m very religious. But you can’t be anywhere more beautiful and peaceful on Christmas Eve.

Pare it back and Christmas can be magical. It is the meeting with good friends that matters. It’s the excitement on the children’s faces.

For grinches like me who hate the darkness of winter, the solstice counts. Crawl out of your dark cave in the morning and remember that by December 25 the days are already on the turn.

Yes, it is a slow turning but the light is coming. Day by day, it brightens. It won’t be long til spring.

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