Friday 20 September 2019

'Tis the season to sit on your fat arse and brace yourself for the breakdowns

'I've always loved Christmas, although I'm not sure whether that's despite or because of my mother's reaction to it' Photo: Depositphotos
'I've always loved Christmas, although I'm not sure whether that's despite or because of my mother's reaction to it' Photo: Depositphotos
Ian O'Doherty

Ian O'Doherty

Well, we're nearly there. At this stage, there are two types of people - those who have done everything that needed to be done, who have all their presents wrapped and sorted and who can now enjoy the next few days at their leisure; and then there's the rest of the country, the silent, despised section of the citizenry who haven't done a thing yet.

Like many of us, I fall into that latter category and that's where we get to sort the men from the boys and the women from the girls - I'd hate to be accused of gender bias - when it comes to dealing with the pressure.

There's the pressure to get the right presents for your loved ones. The pressure to make sure you have more food than you can ever eat. The pressure to ensure that the tree looks like something that would suit the Rockefeller Plaza. Ultimately, whether you like Christmas or not will probably be a good indicator of how well you can cope with ridiculous bursts of stress in a short space of time.

Or you can simply accept the fact that you will get some things done and there ain't a lot you can do about the rest.

I've always loved Christmas, although I'm not sure whether that's despite or because of my mother's reaction to it. To her, the festive season was greeted like an invading army - plans had to be made early to ensure the occupying festive force could be resisted at every available opportunity.

So, while my father shrugged his shoulders in one of those 'ah, you know what your ma is like' gestures that are common to Irish men of a certain age, she faffed about and insisted on making a crisis out of every drama.

It was only as I grew older that I realised that she wouldn't have had it any other way - she had been brought up to mainline on festive freak-outs and seemed to think that it wasn't Christmas unless there was at least one meltdown over the decorations.

For instance, there's no need for anyone to get up at six in the morning to put a turkey on - unless you're cooking it by candlelight. Yet she did just that. Because that was they way things were done.

In fact, the Christmas dinner was, as in many households, the hot spot which dragged out all the rows. Why, I'd ask my father, did this mad woman insist on doing absolutely everything in the kitchen, refuse all help - the only time of the year I wasn't dragooned into cooking duties - and then have a breakdown half-way though the starter because she was left in the kitchen on her own while the rest of relaxed on our fat arses (her words, not mine)?

Again this would prompt a Gallic shrug from the old man. He had learned that some things are beyond male comprehension and it's easier to let them blow themselves out.

In fact, it was during one such epic meltdown that my father gave me some sterling advice - unless it's a point of principle, compromise is when you both agree that she's right.

But if the Christmases of my childhood were things to be carefully negotiated, an emotional minefield where the wrong word sets off the lot, once I moved out of the house and created my own life, and my own Christmas traditions, I realised what a bloody wonderful time of the year it is - if you want it to be.

Obviously, I can boast about my relaxed Christmas attitude because my parents are now dead, which at least saves on two presents, and also because I don't have kids, who only get in the way of the fun.

I still remember my uncle, a former Irish boxer, being reduced to genuine tears of helpless rage by a doll's house that had to be assembled but came with the wrong parts.

Try telling someone at 5am on Christmas that the plastic debris strewn across the room is meant to look like a palace fit for a princess and you can expect a pretty unfestive response.

As I'm writing this, I still haven't bought any presents.

Will the shops run of things I can buy? No. No they won't.

Which is why I approach my Christmas shopping the same way I do everything else - leave it until the last minute, then erupt in a frenzy of activity and get everything done in one surgical strike.

The days of popping over to New York for a bit of shopping may have been replaced by people going to Newry, which will surely make many of us feel like we're back having a very 1980s Christmas, but ultimately all the gifts and knick-knacks are distractions - can you remember what you received last year?

This is probably the first Christmas in nearly a decade when people aren't completely freaked out. The economy may not have made such an improvement that we're all shopping in Brown Thomas again, but there are signs that things are improving and, let's not forget, we've had the mildest winter in years.

We're slaves to the weather in this country and after the white-out of 2010, when it seemed that anyone who lived away from a main road was snowed in, we can at least rest easy that we won't have to listen to 'White Christmas' on an Irish radio ever again.

The year 2010 - a nation paralysed by economic gloom and crippling snow; 2016 - there was a bumblebee floating around the Christmas trees when I bought ours last week.

So this year, I'll get up, watch 'It's A Wonderful Life' because that's what you do (maybe I'm more like ma than I thought), then potter around the kitchen while making the best meal of the year. We'll eat when it's ready. We'll visit people, when we want, if we want.

No muss, no fuss, no extraneous hassle.

Happy Christmas.

The year we've had, we've all earned a blowout...

Irish Independent

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