Monday 24 June 2019

Dr Ciara Kelly: Poignancy of letting on to be happy at Christmas

Christmas Eve, a time to get a last gift or some bit of dinner
Christmas Eve, a time to get a last gift or some bit of dinner

Ciara Kelly

'It was Christmas eve babe..." So starts one of the most enduring Christmas songs of the last 30 years. It's up there with Joni Mitchell's River and Judy Garland's Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas as beautiful songs that bring out the poignancy of being broken when all around you are celebrating Christmas. And I'd suggest that they are so beautiful because all of us on some level can relate to that. All of us on some level know what it is to pretend to smile and be happy when inside our heart is aching and things are not all tinsel and fairy lights.

Judy Garland's version of Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas is particularly gorgeous as she's singing it to her daughter in the film Meet Me In St Louis and she's actually telling her even though everything - even hope - seems lost, they battle on and endure. And there is that added heartbreak of watching this woman trying to protect her children from the reality of their situation by singing a lullaby, as so many have done before and after her. There are people all over Ireland who are doing that same thing today - trying to protect their kids from their reality. People experiencing very real anguish in their lives for any number of reasons. People who know what it is to be emotionally out of step with the rest of the world and who know how isolating it feels to be the 'only person' who's not happy at the most wonderful time of the year.

It isn't true either of course, Christmas doesn't make anyone's problems go away - in fact it can exaggerate them, so it isn't the case that you are the only person who's sad, alone, heartbroken or lost. It's just the time of the year when we put a gloss over all that and celebrate despite it. And maybe that's OK. Maybe we actually need occasionally to believe in the message of optimism and hope that comes from Christmas. That comes from celebrating life - even when life isn't all that great.

Interestingly, my favourite days over Christmas aren't the big ones. They're the before and after. Christmas Eve and that one - a day or two after Stephen's Day where you stay in your pyjamas all day, eating leftover sandwiches and the coffee creams and Bounty bars from the bottom of the box, while you watch the Back To The Future trilogy and not a visitor crosses the door. The one where it's all over and you've survived it.

Christmas Eve I love for the delicious sense of anticipation. Like most things, the build up can often be better than the actual event. From the moment you wake up, you know Santa is coming tonight! No more sleeps! It always feels like a long day - in a good way. And provided you're not madly unprepared, there can be a relaxed sense of gearing up for tomorrow.

It has its own traditions too. And Christmas Eve in my house isn't too different to Christmas Eve in my parents' house when we were growing up. There's a potter around a few shops in the afternoon for the last few things - a forgotten present or some bit of the dinner you've overlooked. And then as the dusk falls that old excitement builds, as on the radio and TV they start to plot Santa's journey around the globe - and you know you better get to sleep so he'll come but you're not sure you can sleep because it's Christmas!

I can still remember very clearly driving into Dun Laoghaire on Christmas Eve 30 years ago, in my parents' car when Fairytale Of New York had just been released - and it coming on the radio. Me and my sister were singing it in the back seat while my parents tried to work out if it was awful or not. Their teenage daughters singing about the drunk tank made them uneasy. (They came round eventually to thinking it was wonderful). I remember what I wore. I remember the boots my dad bought me as a Christmas present - they were blue with green tongues! It was the 1980s... We had sausage rolls and white, milky coffees in a half empty coffee shop just as it was closing. We sang Christmas songs all the way home in a car so cold you could see your breath. It was the one day of the year we did those kind of things. It was Christmas.

Let's hope it's a good one... Merry Christmas everyone.


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