Ian O'Doherty: How I learned to stop worrying and pine for Christmas morning
Published 22/12/2012 | 06:00
Well, it looks like we made it. Just barely, but we've come through.
After what has been a year from hell, I reckon the entire country is just looking forward to taking a deep breath over the next couple of days and trying to put all the woes of our new reality behind us.
I freely admit that I love Christmas. I always have.
I think that whether you enjoy the festive season or just try to ignore it is largely down to the memories you have of your own childhood Christmas experiences.
Mine were great, which was ironic because when I got older both my parents admitted that they didn't particularly care for this time of the year – my mother used to suffer a bad case of the winter blues that would really kick in around now.
But, as I was an only child until I was 14, they were determined to make an extra special effort for me.
And that sense of excitement has never left me, although it has been tested severely in recent years.
Last year, Christmas was effectively cancelled.
Myself and my wife spent Christmas afternoon in the Mater Hospital, where her oldest childhood friend, Fergal, was in the intensive care unit following a massive heart attack.
Coming home, the Christmas dinner – which is my favourite meal of the year – could have been made of saw dust and I don't think either of us would have noticed.
Fergal died four days later.
The year before that, my Nana had a stroke and that put a downer on everything while my brother and sister had to spend the entire Christmas period without running water because their pipes had frozen and they couldn't find a plumber.
But this year?
Well, you know what? Feck it. We're all broke. We're all completely freaked out – I honestly never thought I'd hit 40 and be in such financial merde – but if ever there was an excuse to kick out the jams and have a bit of a laugh then surely it is now.
After all, if any country deserves to take a break from navel-gazing and despondency and doom-and-gloom then it is us (and the Greeks and the Spanish, but you know what I mean).
This year, I am going to go back to what I love best – a traditional Christmas.
And while I've struggled to get into the festive spirit this year (I think most of us have, to be quite honest) the trigger that got me into the mood was an unusual one – I was simply going into the kitchen the other night and as I passed through the dining room I got the most beautiful smell of pine from the Christmas tree.
I looked at the tree, and the lights that festooned it – painstakingly arranged by the missus – as well as the little Christmas stocking that had been sent in as a gift by a young reader at the top of the tree (thanks, Claire) and just thought . . . man, that's beautiful.
The gentle, alternating twinkling of the lights – not a phrase I ever thought I saw myself saying, to be honest – and the scent of the needles might seem an unlikely thing to get you into the mood, but for whatever reason, that was the trick for me. I suddenly just went . . . ah, now I'm feeling it.
And, as usual, I still haven't got my presents sorted out.
The wife turned around – as she does every year, it seems – the other night and with a relieved sigh she informed me that she had all her presents sorted and how happy she was with what she had got.
So, no pressure on me there, then.
But I'll do what most blokes do when it comes to shopping for loved ones – I'll head into town this afternoon and simply do a surgical strike of the shops.
Obviously, spending money is down on 12 months ago but everyone knows that and I think we've all just come to accept that fact.
No, I'll head into town like a brave little soldier, fighting my way through the hordes of frenzied shoppers and I'll just suck it up and get it done.
Because next Monday night, Christmas Eve, is when we gleefully, excitedly swap our gifts under the tree.
It doesn't matter how modern you might think you are, there are few pleasures quite as pure and honest as standing under a tree and gleefully ripping wrapping paper to find your latest pressie.
Ideally, we'll go to a carol service at midnight – it doesn't matter whether you are a religious person or not, the sheer beauty of a carol service is something that transcends faith.
But the next morning is when the real fun begins.
It's the only morning of the year when I willingly get up early. A glass of Buck's Fizz and then it's into the kitchen to get the dinner started.
People like to say that they don't like turkey, but what they mean is that they don't like hard, overcooked turkey.
I'll baste mine with lots of butter and salt under the skin and carefully wrap it in tin foil and then while that's cooking I'll . . . go into the sitting room to watch It's A Wonderful Life (TV3, 12.30).
If you don't love that Capra classic then there is something seriously, deeply wrong with you.
In fact it's not Christmas until you've seen it.
And, as usual, I'll make it until nearly the end of the movie before the manly tears come flooding (God, I'm welling up now just thinking of the ending) and that's my cue to go back into the kitchen to check the bird.
I tend to go full Monty on Christmas lunch and, truth be told, it's probably a meal I enjoy cooking even more than eating.
That's because what better festive feeling can there be than to sit down and watch someone you love sighing with pleasure as they eat something you have cooked for them?
So, from me to you – have a bloody wonderful Christmas.