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Leona O'Neill: The secret of Christmas present success is all about shopping early...

Leona recalls her disastrous Christmas 2020, when ‘Santa' failed to deliver any presents tothe O'Neills for the first time ever due toCovid-related delays, and vows that this year things will be very different...

Will Santa be delayed again this year due to Covid?
Leona O'Neill

A FRIEND of mine is so super-organised she starts purchasing Christmas gifts in the January sales. She sails through the festive season every year without a care, knowing that everything is sorted weeks and even months in advance.

I am the yin to my friend's yang. I leave everything to the last minute, racing through the shops a few days before Christmas Eve recreating a particularly frantic and stress-inducing episode of Supermarket Sweep. And I swear every year that, due to the fact that it takes so much out of me, I will never, ever do things that way again.

Last year was a terribly stressful festive season. Due to the fact that a deadly pandemic was raging through the place, our hospitals were on the brink of collapse, half of our loved ones were shielding, ambulances were queuing around the corner and we were told to stay at home, I ordered everything online for Christmas in good time.

For a time I sat back and allowed myself to be smug, basking in the glow of my successful timeliness and endeavour, realising that this weird feeling was what made my organised friend feel so relaxed. I liked it.

But then, in the week before Christmas, came the emails. 'Due to unforeseen circumstances, your package is being delayed'. 'Due to delivery issues, your package wont be available until December 23'. 'We are working hard to get your delivery to you, we guarantee it will be here before the big day. Relax!'.

Santa no longer visits our house, our kids are all a little older now, but Christmas morning is still really special. Being able to give my kids a gift that they really want and are excited about on Christmas morning is one of the reasons I go out to work.

So when I was stood in a store on Christmas Eve morning to pick up everything and the lady on the computer told me that she was so very sorry but all my deliveries had been delayed and wouldn't be there until January, I almost cried.

I know it's a stupid thing, I know that I shouldn't be so materialistic, but it threw all our Christmas traditions in the bin. Our oldest child is almost 19-years-old, but on Christmas morning we still send their Daddy down first to the living room to see if Santa has been and left gifts. When given the green light we all file down, then he and I sit with a coffee watching them open their gifts. We are not extravagant; we save up and we get them something they really love.

I remember sitting in the car outside the store and searching my messages to see if other things I had ordered online had been delivered while I was out – they hadn't – and thinking if I drive quickly enough, I'll catch the petrol station before it closes for Christmas. I thought I could purchase chocolate, fire lighters, oranges or fingerless gloves and we could pretend we were having a Victorian-themed Christmas just for a change. I supposed if you didn't laugh you'd cry.

To cut a long story short, last Christmas was a bit of a disaster. Everyone thoroughly enjoyed themselves on the day and we actually had a second Christmas when all our gifts arrived, but it wasn't the same. It's silly, but I felt I let everyone down badly. Christmas 2020 will forever be remembered by me anyway – I think the kids have forgotten already.

So this week, when I saw that there was a shortage of HGV drivers which could lead to another disastrous Christmas, I started getting the ball rolling for the festive season. Everything will hopefully be purchased before December even comes around.

What Covid has taught us is that the future is terribly uncertain, we can't depend on the things we used to put our faith in, and that Christmas can be ruined by shortages or strikes or surges in virus.

Preparation is key. Good luck!

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