Life Christmas

Tuesday 21 May 2019

It's not Christmas Day, it's my birthday! - Author Caroline Grace-Cassidy on how she celebrates December 25

It would be reasonable to assume that being born on December 25 might make you feel hard done by, but novelist Caroline Grace-Cassidy says that she loves it. Don't believe her? Here she sets out the case for a day of double delights…

Caroline Grace-Cassidy who's birthday is on December 25. Photo: ©Fran Veale
Caroline Grace-Cassidy who's birthday is on December 25. Photo: ©Fran Veale
Caroline Grace-Cassidy who's birthday is on December 25th. Photo: ©Fran Veale

G'wan, it's Christmas - open up the After Eights. Slide out that tasty festive treat from its open wrapper. Start the rapid nibbling around the dark chocolate fondant square, throw another briquette on the fire and let me take you back to Christmas Eve, AKA the eve of my birth, over… *coughs loudly over the number*… years ago.

My wonderful mother Noeleen, just 25 years young and pregnant with her second baby, sits heavy under the tinsel-decorated, twinkling Christmas tree, wrapping her last gift. Indeed, quite possibly the actual last of the 'Cheeky Charlies.' She adds it to the spilling pile of wrapped presents that sprawl across the floor, then with a belly full of crisps and dry, fat-basted turkey stuffing sambos on white batch bread, she sits back and watches, what to this day, is still my favourite film of all time, It's A Wonderful Life. When it ends, sobbing with inner festive glee and hormonal angst, she makes her way to bed early, already six days overdue with little old me.

"Whatever you do, don't go on Christmas Day!" her gynaecologist only half-joked with her the day before, puffing on a giant cigar in his rooms on Charlemont Street. "As if!" Noeleen had hauled herself and myself up off the examination couch and bid him a very Happy Christmas telling him: "We have all Robert's relations from England home for Christmas dinner in ours tomorrow. All the plans have been made."

You know what they say about best laid plans.

While tucked up in bed on that bitterly cold, frosty Christmas Eve she began to feel the force of her contractions. My dad, the aforementioned Robert, 'merrily' returned from The Falcon Inn on Camden Street, with all his English relatives in tow, for a late-night turkey sambo, another glass of Guinness and a little Christmas sing-song. As men did in those days. Ahem.

My granny Maggie, my maternal grandmother, was staying over that night and was on stand-by to mind my older sister Samantha, should the unwanted occur. Granny looked after the English rellies with great Irish pride, carving more turkey, heating mince pies, opening tins of Quality Street, Jacob's biscuits and even slicing some of her famous homemade Christmas pudding while making hot whiskeys all round. When they left in the early hours, granny and dad went up to bed.

At six o'clock in the morning I decided within the womb to see if Santa had arrived. After all, that's what's kids do, right? Wake up early on Christmas Day - no kid in their right mind sleeps through the greatest day of the year! I gave my mother-to-be a swift kick in the ribs and she woke fully.

"Robert, wake up, this is it." She groaned, as only a heavily pregnant woman can groan; a low guttural sound, not dissimilar to a man who has been kicked in the you-know-where.

(Go on, have another one. That's the thing with After Eights, they are nibbled in seconds.)

However, Dad, who had - bless - overindulged in the festivities the night before lept up and ran straight for the en-suite bathroom. "Robert!" my mother called for him.

"What's wrong with him?" my granny, now up, hopping on the landing with one leg in her thick industrial tights, asked. "I'm in labour, Mam," my mother said in a series of pants.

"How are you going to get Mass?" my granny gasped in horror as my mother stared her down.

"What's wrong with Robert?" Granny asked again.

"He has a hangover, Mam - he's throwing up!" my mother, doubled over, told her mother.

"Oh, the poor fella! Robert? What's wrong?" My granny dashed to the bathroom, both legs now safely ensconced in the thick industrial tights. There, she lovingly tended to the man of the house, as my mother puffed and panted in the background. Granny ran for a cold wet towel… for his head. Fetched paracetamol… for his head. She made him hot tea and, believe it or not, he managed a few little bites of some dry toast. The trooper! "There, there Robert. I know. Just try another little bite, you have a long day ahead of you, pet." Granny minded him well as my mammy-in-waiting continued to moo.

Eventually Dad was feeling well enough to tackle the hard day ahead, and off they went to Mount Carmel hospital where I was born a short four hours later - at 10 o'clock on Christmas morning. "Without so much as an aspirin," as my mother would later explain.

From that very hour on, the following conversations have followed me whenever I'm asked my date of birth.

Them: "The 25th of December? You were born on Christmas Day? Hate that!"

Me: "Oh, well I don't . . . "

Them: "But Christmas Day? What a nightmare for you and your poor mother!"

Me: "Actually it was very special for us both."

Them: "Christmas Day - but you miss out on birthday presents!"

Me: "To be honest, it's quite the opposite, I've always had two birthdays."

Them: "Don't believe you."

So, what's it really like sharing a birthday with Jesus Christ, as well as other double-uppers like Shane McGowan, Humphrey Bogart, Kenny Everett and Justin Trudeau to name but a few? What is it really like to have the two biggest days of the year morphed into one? Let me tell you… I love it! It's incredibly special. Please don't say you don't believe me, or that I couldn't possibly, because I do. And here's why: Because I milk it for every damn thing that's it's worth!

I play that birthday/Christmas card like a sweet-sounding fiddle. My parents had always ensured I had my birthday a week before. Never a set date every year, sometimes December 16, sometimes December 19, sometimes December 20, and it added to the excitement.

How many people can wonder what date their birthday will be on every year? Only me and the leap year babies. And then, even after I have celebrated the other birthday and got all my presents, Christmas Day is still my birthday so there is always an extra birthday present that Santa brings too! Does Santa bring you a birthday present? Didn't think so.

Win. Win. Ching! Ching!

Then, its gets juicier because a lot of the time people forget, then feel guilty they forgot and overcompensate.

Them: "Oh my God, I'm so sorry! I forgot with all the merriment that it's also your birthday!"

Me: (Self-deprecating face and dismissing hand movement) "Ahh don't be silly, it's fine…"

Them: "It's isn't! Happy Birthday Caroline! Hey everyone, listen up, it's Caroline's birthday!

Another chorus of Happy Birthday rings out and people fuss over me.

"Me: "Ahh you don't have to really... oh, well thank you!"

(You haven't eaten the whole box, have you? You could try my old trick of putting the empty wrappers back in? Really annoys people!)

Also, you know the way, if you are like me anyway, you see lots of things you'd like for Christmas but don't want to be greedy? Those Christmas ads make everything look so good. But Christmas is not a time for greed, right? Well, another big plus to my DOB is, I can be 'Covetous Christmas Caroline'. I can saunter around shops pointing and saying nonchalantly, "Hmm, that's lovely, isn't it?" Or, "I really like that and that and that… but do not get me two presents, one is fine. I mean it this year!" Yeah right! I know that my poor husband, mother, father, sister, brother, or pals are clocking them all.

One of the absolute best things about a Christmas Day birthday is you don't really think about the new number. You are too full of joy and turkey and ham and Brussels sprouts and the alluring, engaging, captivating, magic that I find is Christmas Day. Who cares if I'm another year older? Look! - another selection box! It's the one day of the year that the simple things matter. Family trumps ageing.

In saying that, when I do roll myself into bed a year older, the facts are, I've loads of great face creams - the really good ones, the make-your-eyes-water-with-the-price-of-them ones that I nonchalantly pointed out in the stores - to lash on.

All in all, it's like a 'soft' birthday, that other year older never really registers quite as harshly as any other day of the year.

But in all seriousness, now that I'm older, having a Christmas birthday is beginning to become a lot more meaningful to me. It's sort of magical when I think back to that quiet morning when, on those deserted Dublin roads to Mount Carmel Hospital, when my incredible parents and me in utero, drove through the most exciting wakening of the year.

To be born on Christmas Day finally means something more than double presents to me. And the fact that all these year later I still celebrate the birthday a week before, when I go for dinner with my family and they still make a huge fuss over me, just makes it more and more special every year.

I couldn't in good conscience discuss my Christmas birthday without saying that there was one person who didn't forget ever, and that was granny Maggie. As soon as she would walk into our house on Christmas morning forever after my birth, it was never 'Merry Christmas', it was always: "Happy Birthday love!"

So, I'll leave you with this: I love my Christmas Day Birthday. Love, love, love it. Everything about it. Christmas is deep in my soul, the tradition and the sentiment. Yes, I'm fond of an alcoholic beverage and a turkey stuffing sandwich, which, as my story proves, are all genetically linked! And no, I never got off homework on my birthday in school or got the bumps in the school yard nor did I ever see people outside my immediate family on my birthday, but that was more than OK. That was all part of the special charm that is having your birthday on Christmas Day.

'Bride Squad Runaway', written by Caroline Grace-Cassidy and Lisa C Carey, will be published by Black & White Publishing in Spring 2019

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