Kathy Donaghy: 'It's the simple things that stop us feeling flat at Yuletide'
EVERY year at Christmas I say it will be different. I tell myself that this will be the one where I'm not racing to the shops on Christmas Eve buying last-minute presents.
I promise myself that this will indeed be the year that I am ensconced at home all of Christmas Eve, wearing festive pyjamas with the dinner in the slowcooker and the 'Elf' movie on the telly. It's a fantasy.
But then fantasy is what Christmas is all about. It's about imagining the best version of yourself, your family and your home. Sometimes the fantasy is so out of step with the reality that we end up disappointed by Christmas; it's not quite what we hoped it would be.
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I know I'm not alone when I dream of something more meaningful for my family that doesn't involve getting or buying anything. So I'm trying to surrender to the fact that it's not perfect - it never will be - and just trying to live in the moment and enjoy the small things.
This is in fact more liberating than it sounds. Experts would probably say it's mindfulness in action. By being present in the moment instead of running around like a headless chicken you might actually find that moments of magic open up.
Accepting that it's not perfect but can still bring you joy reminds me of the immortal lines of Leonard Cohen's 'Anthem' where he sings:
"Ring the bells that still can ring,
Forget your perfect offering,
There is a crack, a crack in everything,
That's how the light gets in."
So with that in mind I'm letting Christmas happen in the real stuff of life rather than focusing on the futile and exhausting search for perfection.
At home in Donegal I'm tapping into the wilderness on my doorstep. Finding a deserted beach to walk on even in the darkest days of winter feels like stealing a moment for myself in the midst of the mayhem. The quietness feels like the perfect antidote to the stress of the season that we all feel. Coming back from a walk, bright-eyed and clear-headed from the breeze and taking time out, works wonders every time.
Observing the cormorants, oblivious to the wind, perched on rocks, looking out to sea for anything that might break the water and noticing the swell of the waves while taking in the smells and sounds of the ocean is a perfect escape out from Christmas stress.
Even if it's only for 10 minutes, it also leaves me more prepared to go with the flow of the day and be grateful for the small gifts it brings. Sometimes these are unexpected like the arrival of a card from an old friend. In Donegal our numbers will swell at this time of year as young people working and settled elsewhere at home and abroad make their way home.
Some of my own family members will be among those making the journey and that will be a gift. And so when my car got a flat tyre the other night in the dark in a place nowhere near home, I didn't get into the usual flap. I had taken the kids to see Santa at Oakfield Park in Raphoe. The flat tyre wouldn't budge and it was lashing rain.
I asked in a nearby shop for the number of a local mechanic. This being Donegal, a lady in the shop knew the man I should call and had his mobile number on her phone. I called the mechanic, who without hesitation left his home after 9pm and helped us, saying he couldn't see us stuck.
It reminded me that when you look for it, small things that convey the true meaning of Christmas are in the banal, in the everyday happenings of life. We'll never forget our trip to Oakfield Park - it was wonderful.
But what will stick out in our minds in Christmases to come is Maurice the mechanic, who came out on a wet and cold winter's night and made sure we got home.