It's the shortest day today, and in a few days time we will celebrate Christmas. For the past two weeks I have been fighting one of those viral doses that prowls the land, like wolves seeking prey. As we head towards The Big Day, I am relieved to be 95%, as the statisticians would put it, recovered, and getting stronger everyday.
My best friend is in hospital. We both came down with a "bug" at the same time, whereas I have fought the dose and conquered it, she has had a rising temperature for the past week which rages through her at night. The hospital staff are baffled. This year she won't be at home surrounded by her children, grand-children and newborn first great-grand child. Please God they will find out what is causing these raging temperatures and she will be back where she belongs before long.
Of all times of the year, Christmas is the most special; it is the one at which we all hope to be surrounded by those we love. My eldest will be 30 on Tuesday, and I find myself thinking back to that sunny, frostily bitter Sunday morning thirty years ago when she first entered this world. We had lost our little boy, and I didn't think, as I was thirty years old, that I would be lucky enough to have another child. But the luck of the Irish held she arrived and two years later, her sister was born. I always think of our eldest as the greatest Christmas present life could ever give me; her sister is the icing on the cake, and I frequently thank a merciful God for them.
On our first Christmas back here, I debated for most of the autumn would I decorate or not. Would I even bother with Christmas? Without Mum, the house felt as if the roof had fallen off. In the long run, I decided that decorating would be just what she would order. My heart wasn't in it, but I decided to keep things minimal and the fireplace was the only area I put up a few decorations. It is an Irish tradition not to decorate or send Christmas cards for the first Christmas after suffering a death in the family.
In the long run, I was very glad I did make the effort. Turkey, Ham and all the trimmings - it not only cheered us up, but we felt the presence of Mum and Dad with us. Despite the best efforts of my sister in law to make it a solemn occasion by frequently announcing "I can't believe she is dead", the rest of us shared many a laugh remembering good Christmas's together with Mum.
This was Mum's favourite picture. It reminded her of her childhood here on what was a dairy farm, and of the cattle coming home at milking time. I found it in a wall-paper shop in Tralee thirty years ago and brought it back to our old house. When Christmas time came, I took it out of the attic and wrapped it up. Her face when she saw it, and the joy across her face, was worth more than all the gold in the world to me. It still commands pride of place, but I have moved it to the dining room from where she had displayed it.
Himself won a crib in a raffle when he was a young boy. The original stable has disintegrated over the past 50 years, but the figurines are still going strong. The donkey is missing the tip of an ear, the angel is wingless, Joseph needs a bit of propping up, but we still set up the crib. Youngest gets the job of putting in the Baby Jesus on Christmas morning, and even if I do say so myself, the crib looks pretty good. Ten years ago Himself rebuilt it with some pieces of tongue-and-groove wood, and beautifully turned mahogany shelf supports from an old dresser that had succumbed to woodworm. The supports were worm free, so they were "re-loved", "up-cycled" or whatever you want to call it yourself.
This year we will celebrate Christmas together. My late friend's Mum is out of hospital and is being taken into respite care on 23rd, locally. She tells me that it is the thought of coming to join us on Christmas day is what kept her going. At 90 years of age, she is is one tough trooper, and I think it is more this tenacity that kept her going. It will make my Christmas to see her sitting at the top of the table. My sister in law is also joining us. Hopefully Carol, my pal, will be restored to the bosom of her family for Christmas too. Keep your fingers crossed for her please.
This year I am going for a vintage look. Himself loves hangers, loops, lights, lights, and more lights. Usually I let him fire away with his decorating. I "do" the tree up by tradition. This year I persuaded him to let me recreate - as it is my 60th year- the decorations of my childhood.
So, in keeping with tradition there is a red and green and gold theme going on. Holly and trailing ivy are placed strategically around the place in red vases, the tree is red, green and gold also - those pink plastic baubles we were given a year or two ago are back in the attic. The air is redolent with the smell of cinnamon and spices, and as luck would have it, most of our Christmas cards are very traditional this year.
A combination of Downton Abbey and WW1 1914 has hit a lot of imaginations this year, I think. If this is so, then I am loving it. The house looks extra cosy and friendly and when Eldest returned home after being away for a few days, she skipped [aged 29] around the house like a little child who had just bumped into Santa. "I love it" she said - and on that basis I am hoping that this could be the new decorating tradition for our home.
I remember Christmas when I was three. I remember Dad carrying me up the hall on his shoulders, I remember opening the door to the sitting room, the tree, 6' in height, the red, gold and green baubles. Dan, our black Labrador sitting in front of the fire, and there, under the Christmas tree...my first dolls pram and the little doll who came to be called Barbara. Mum had knitted an entire matinee ensemble for her, she knitted a blanket for the pram, and old linen napkins were made into pillow cases. An old linen table cloth was cut in two, edged, and made into two sheets for the pram. Barbara and I paraded around the garden for many a year until Santa brought a new, shinier, bigger pram four years later.
Nóllaig Shóna dhaiobh a dhuine uaisle!