Your 12-step programme for solace at the solstice
Christmas is often seen as the most stressful time of the year, which is a pity because if there was ever a time we needed a break and a recharge, it is in bleak midwinter. So here in the festive spirit are 12 tips, not to just get through, but to thrive, enliven and enrich the 12 days. A little solace at the solstice, if you'll forgive me.
1 On the first day of Christmas, we noticed that it's still only Halloween and the damn thing has another two months to go. Shops want us buying and panicking earlier and earlier but it is important that we choose the routine that suits us best: for some of us that will be shopping in August but for others, it will be nipping around on Christmas Eve. It is worth deciding now how you like to organise yourself and trying to stick to it.
2 On the second day of Christmas, we bought a little less. We know one thing for sure: that the kids will play with the boxes and the jumpers will be returned. If as family and a community, we can agree to buy each other a little less presents, we might enjoy some of these things a little more.
3 On the third day, we said Christmas is for kids. So let's all try to be kids for a while. Make time for playing, for being on the floor, for eating marshmallows and playing board games. Kids have a much better understanding of Christmas than adults so let's copy them. Trying to find things to make us gasp in wonder and you will rediscover magic of Christmas.
4 On the fourth day, we gave more than we got. My four favourite Christmases were when I was in my early 20s. I was involved with a charity which asked us to sleep at the Bank of Ireland, College Green for 48 hours in aid of homeless charities. They were remarkable days, turbulent nights and it was a Christmas I earned.
5 On the fifth day, we met someone who needed the company. Christmas is the most social of times but it is also the time of year when people feel isolation the most. Whether with migrants to our country or older relatives and neighbours, cups of tea and 'half' a sherry might never be more important.
6 On the sixth day, we remembered our dead. Joyce and Dickens understood this. Every family who lost someone during the year knows it implicitly. There will be an empty seat at many kitchen tables. Christmas isn't just for the living but for all those who went before us. Our remembrances acknowledge our loss and sadness and what it is to live without them.
7 On the seventh day, we ate and drank too much because excess is part of the joy of it. It is a celebration, a festival of being born and of coming home. For all these reasons, pass the Ferrero Rocher, I think there might be one left in the second layer.
8 On the eighth day, we spent it outdoors. It is a spectacular time of year in Ireland. Often cool and crisp and even. So we should be up Croagh Patrick, down the furry glen, blue in the Forty Foot and then wrapped up toasty by the fire.
9 On the ninth day, we looked to see the meaning in the things around us. It is a religious festival. No matter what our background or understanding of the world, the Nativity story is extraordinary, enlightening and enriching. The modern world seems designed to strip meaning from our lives to replace it with commodity and commercialism but there is maybe never an easier time to get in touch with who we are as human beings.
10 On the tenth day, we took a deep breath. Noticed the air flowing into our bodies. We stopped running; surveyed the damage; enjoyed the pandemonium of it all. And then threw ourselves once more into the breach.
11 On the eleventh day, we understood that depression is perhaps Ireland's most common illness. It doesn't happen to someone else. It happens to us, our family, our friends. Isolation is the breeding ground for depression and only we as a community can break this down. It will be about reaching out to those who are isolated and most vulnerable; finding ways to give a sense of self-worth to those who have lost their jobs or are under pressure. This isn't new. This is what Ireland used to be like. We just forgot how to do it.
12 On the twelfth day, we embraced the people beside us because for this moment, just this moment, everything is perfect.
In Memory of Gerry Haugh