Christmas, these days, is a bit of a hard pill to swallow. Growing up, my festive season was family-orientated, warm and robust. Feeding the cake until it was 95 per cent proof. Increasingly creative reasons to get out of Midnight Mass. Waiting until dark to plunder holly from the country lane behind our house. I loved Christmas, because it was all fireside and outdoorsiness and hygge. Now, though, my father is dead, my mother is estranged and hasn’t even acknowledged the existence of my husband and son, and the rest of my family is scattered across the continents, and doesn’t write.
Of course, this doesn’t stop me being the most festive motherfucker you ever did see. It doesn’t stop me bingeing on The Box Of Delights as soon as December lands, or infesting the house with spiced orange pomanders. It’s just that with the jingling every year now comes a low, deep ache.
Luckily for me, I have my husband’s family. Their Christmases are busy and boisterous, and they have – quite without ceremony – tipped me head-first into proceedings as a full-blown family member. It is incredibly generous and – please don’t tell them this, because they’ll beat me up – genuinely one of the most touching things I’ve experienced.
It is difficult to sit around, moping about your shitty family, when you’re with a little boy who cannot believe that you’re allowing him to play with paperchains
And now I’m experiencing something else – Christmas from the other side. Last year, my son was too young to enjoy Christmas. At just 11 months, he was too busy getting on with the business of learning to walk, saying words and acquiring apparently all of his baby teeth in a single week. My husband and I, meanwhile, were too busy moving every single thing out of a suddenly-mobile baby’s reach to enjoy Christmas that much, especially as we were still only getting trace amounts of sleep per night. If I remember rightly, our Christmas tree was a spatula with a single strand of tinsel stuck to it with chewing gum. I may not be remembering rightly.
This year, though, my son is awake to the magic of it. The boy will sit back on his heels and breathe “Wowwwww” every time a plane crosses the sky, so now that the world has suddenly burst into song and twinkling lights, he’s basically in heaven. He whispers “dinkle dar” (“twinkle star”) every time he sees fairylights. He acts as though wrapping paper is the most beautiful – and the most comfortable – artwork he has ever seen. Christmas movies send him into paroxyms of bubbly giggles. I daren’t tell him the part about him receiving gifts, in case he explodes (he’s still a way from understanding about the baby Jesus though, I think).
Really, though, it is difficult to sit around, moping about your shitty family, when you’re with a little boy who cannot believe that you’re allowing him to play with paperchains. Or that such a thing as glitter could exist. A boy who will stop dead in front of a shop display just to watch a cheap fibre-optic tree change colour. A boy who runs up to a shopping-centre snowman, buries his head in his soft suit, then sweetly asks him to dance.
This is what Christmas is about – the magic and light and dance of it all, and it is very nice to see it through my son’s clear, happy eyes, rather than my old, jaded ones. In fact, it’s so nice I shall try to let go of those old resentments. After all, this is my family now. Time to make some new traditions. Merry Christmas.