Life Family

Thursday 22 August 2019

The transfiguration of my Christmas spirit

The backlash was brutal when Gemma Fullam declared her disdain for Yule, so she's resurrected her inner ho-ho-ho on her own terms

Gemma Fullam
Gemma Fullam

I held my breath as the scissors' blades cut around baby Jesus. Snip, snip, they went, freeing the infant's pudgy arms and the gilded glow above his head. "Do you want to stick him on?" asked my mother, having successfully excised the Messiah from the Christmas card I'd been allowed to requisition for the purpose with which we were now engaged. My six-year-old hand trembled as I held the Christ child over the blob of Uhu my father had applied to the brown-paper cover of my Special copy. One false move could ruin the entire endeavour; this I knew. I inhaled deeply and pressed the son of God into position, firmly but gently.

My parents hugged me as we surveyed the completed scene: the baby Jesus, serene in his straw-packed manger; his mother, Mary, a vision in blue; Joseph, looking somewhat bewildered; two shepherds with a lone sheep; three kings (although only one visible gift); and, beaming its light on them all, my favourite element: a tiny shining star.

Oh, it was perfect.

Bursting with pride and elated by my contribution to the divine decoupage, I gazed down at the Holy Family, adorning what now truly was a 'special' copy. As I basked in the warmth of my parents' affection, my child's mind grasped, for the first time, the true magic of Christmas.

Ah, Christmas. I hate it so. Crestfallen as I was when I finally realised that Daidi na Nollag was a construct, it was nothing compared to the desolation that skewered me when, in adulthood, the phoniness of the festive season became apparent. Just as supreme phony-hater Holden Caulfield says in The Catcher in the Rye, that paean to alienated youth: "Certain things, they should stay the way they are. You ought to be able to stick them in one of those big glass cases and just leave them alone."

You can sing that.

My family weren't big on Christmas. Our artificial tree never lived up to my imagination's Disneyfied ideal, but, nonetheless, its yearly appearance set down a marker for the simple felicities that followed.

I wasn't a bah-humbug child, though; my disdain for all things Yule only arrived with adulthood. Indeed, my pre-teen self loved the festive mixum-gatherum: the fat lengths of tinsel slithering from the attic like sparkling snakes; the heady aromas of Guinness, cinnamon and cloves emanating from the plum pudding, packed into its pot; the annual sojourn to see Switzers' windows; the giddy anticipation of Santa's visit; Willy Wonka on TV, viewed while stuffed to the gills with selection-box swag; struggling with sleepiness at midnight mass, where the pungent scent of pine intermingled with the unmistakeable whiff of booze from pub-goers feigning piety.

But Christmas isn't like that any more. It begins in October now; early, too early: the ads, the exhortations to spend, spend, spend; buy, buy, buy; now! now! now! More is the modern season's mantra and woe betide any Grinch who dares to question.

Christmas, in essence, has eaten itself.

In this new millennium, the spurious season's raison d'etre is money - the figgy pudding assemblage of my childhood, and its attendant memories, has segued into a €2.99 BOGOF in a German supermarket. Memories come via a greasy till, rather than a pudding bowl.

Should you dare to declare your loathing for Christmas, people will look at you askance, as if you're some sort of miserly weirdo. This I know, because a couple of years ago, I announced my antipathy for Yule to all and sundry, and the backlash was brutal. You're simply not allowed to rain on the festive parade.

I couldn't hack the heat, so I got out of the killjoy kitchen. Last year, I changed tack and embraced Christmas with a fervour Martha Stewart would have applauded. I made my own plum pudding; stocked up on sloes for gin; gathered red-berried holly and endless yards of ivy trails, from which I made door wreaths and a spectacular swag; sent cards and bedecked presents with beautiful bows; in short, I got into the spirit, big-time. And guess what? I enjoyed it. Simply because I did it on my own terms.

Still, if I could, I'd opt out of the entire Yuletide kit and caboodle, but, truth be told, nobody likes a Christmas curmudgeon, and I've passed peak hate. So this year, I'm taking my childhood Christmas memories and using them as a template for the season, to recreate my own (price-less) version of Yule, rather than Budweiser's or Coca-Cola's, or any other phony that has muscled in on the magic.

Oh, and in case you misunderstood my Nativity tale of sorts at the beginning, the true meaning of Christmas isn't, for me, about religion.

God, no.

It's about togetherness. Love. Family. Simplicity. Little random acts of kindness. The thought being the thing, rather than the price tag.

Hey, Christmas: Mammon called. It wants consumerism back.

I'll buy that. But will Yule?

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