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Chistmas? I'd really love to give it a miss

I'D HAD a few glasses of wine on an empty stomach and there I was, mashing a pot of potatoes and dying to go to the toilet. It's a difficult feat. Particularly for someone "compromised" by having had four children. It's tempting fate, that's what it is.

But I really didn't have the time to go. The in-laws and the out-laws were about to descend on the house expecting Christmas Perfection: the candles lit, White Christmas playing in the background and the aroma of roast turkey wafting through the house.

And here was Mammy standing in the kitchen with her legs crossed, swearing drunkenly at the potatoes: "I'm Never Doing This Again!"

Which is why I'm checking into a hotel this year. Just me.

The rest of the family is going on a one-way sleigh ride to the North Pole.

Gotcha, just for a moment. But then you guessed. Because, just like you, I'm doing it all again this year.

I'm not a stupid woman. I'm not a coward. So why am I signing myself up for kitchen equivalent of the salt mines of Siberia?

Is it because I have to? Partly. I signed myself up for this hard labour a long time ago. I began helping my mother, and gradually took over doing Christmas in her house.

So my best guess is the infection runs from mother to daughter.

My mother got it from her mother. And she got it bad.

My mother grew up in a big Protestant farmhouse in Donegal. Protestants came to Keeping Up with the Joneses a long time ago. Once Queen Victoria's German husband Albert got a Christmas tree for the palace, every home had to have one. Including my mother's isolated farmhouse.

Her family put their presents under their Christmas tree, but the gift-giving was strictly kept until after the second enormous meal of the day, home-reared ham and home-grown apple-pie.

What history does not record is whether my granny was by then locked into her room with a bottle of vodka shouting "No Pope Here!"

Whatever happened, my mother grew to hate Christmas, but she put on a wonderful show. And, once I turned 20, I put on the yoke and started ploughing the same furrow.

I wouldn't have it any other way. I can't say I enjoy it, but I enjoyed it as a child. I suppose I'm trying to recreate my childhood Christmases. Except that I don't get to experience them because I have to create them.

Every year, I feel cheated. But maybe I just have to learn I'm not a child anymore. Maybe that's what my mother was learning, as she collapsed in the sitting room every Christmas afternoon, her head in her hands.

The child in me still rages at the loss of my childhood Christmases. I remember when the penny first began to drop one Christmas Eve when I found myself in the kitchen with my hand stuck up the cavity of a turkey instead of sitting in the pub.

I couldn't believe I had to be Mammy. I had thought Santa did it all.

I began to understand why my mother hated Christmas. But then again, my mother was a full-time home-maker. She never had a job in her life. What else would she be doing but making mince pies?

Me, I was different. I worked in an office. So why did I take on the whole, mad, Christmas thing?

I was working full-time and had a young child the first year I took on Christmas dinner for the whole family. I reckoned Christmas Eve would give me enough time. It was total misery. My husband went to the pub, not realising this Christmas Eve was different.

I stood in the kitchen desperately chopping and boiling and cleaning with my young son hanging on to my leg.

At five to six I realised I had no crackers. I wrapped up my son, put him in his buggy and went out in the howling wind and horizontal rain. The wind lifted the buggy off the road and I had to abandon it and run home, soggy crackers under one arm and soggy toddler under the other.

All because I didn't want the seven-year-old cousin to miss out on crackers. I did actually care. Is that what makes women different?

I know this is a sexist thing to say and it's not true for all men: but overall, I don't think they think as much about others as women do. Or if they do, they have different ways of showing it.

Imagine if the women of Ireland gave up doing Christmas and the men took it on! We'd all have our dinner on our knees in front of the telly. Presents? Was it four children we have? Oh, I only bought three. Sure, the eldest won't mind. We'll get him something in the sales.

Christmas is women's work, alright, but perhaps that's because we made it up in the first place.

We're the ones who know how to build strong family relationships and networks of friends and neighbours.

There's no easy way of doing it. It takes love and imagination. But it also takes cooking.



Sagging

The truth is I'll only stop doing Christmas when I'm blinking away in the corner of the sitting room with the Christmas lights. Then I'll get a chance to be a child again.

Except it won't be the same. My daughter-in-law just won't get it all right.

I'll be like my granny who famously sat down at a table sagging with Christmas delights and roared: "What! No bread sauce!"

I should just give thanks for my health, get on with it, and look forward to the Irish feast-day dedicated to exhausted home-makers, "Nollaig na mBan" or "the women's Christmas" on January 6.

But that would be adult and, like most of us, I'm still a child at heart. I'll have that glass of wine too many on Christmas morning and the scene in the kitchen will be replayed, complete with the soundtrack of me shouting at the potatoes: "I'm Never Doing This Again!"


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