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A surprise from Santa? No pressure there...

CHRISTMAS is creeping up again. And I'm just not organised. Before becoming a parent my main concern would have been what I was wearing to the parties. God, was I really that shallow?

Maybe so, but now I have my Rudolf-the-reindeer apron on and I'm fussing over the ingredients for the Christmas fruitcake. The drama involved in preparing everything (I'm hosting the family lunch this year) is enough to turn me into a fruitcake myself.

Then there's Santa to worry about. My son, Gary, says he wants a surprise and I am just hoping that Santa gets it right. Gary must take after me because when I was younger the other kids in my class would spend days perfecting their Christmas letters and diligently posted them off to the North Pole. I, on the other hand, never had anything specific in mind.

"Santa will know," I used to tell my mother with a superior wink. "Santa knows everything."

"But you can tell me," she would implore.

"I can't tell you because I want it to be a surprise for you too, Mum."

You see, I had it all worked out. Simple.

Mind you, Santa always did get it right. And he always rewarded himself with a large whiskey on Christmas Eve.

Back then, Christmas was simpler. At least it seemed that way to me. I always got something small from Santa, like a cassette or a bottle of perfume. I knew he had to go around all the children in the world in just one night so I didn't demand too much. I thought I was lucky to get anything.

My grandfather told me he never got anything from Santa, which I thought was sad. But then my grandfather had lived in the middle of the country so it might have been too inconvenient for Santa.

I would like to think that every child got something from Santa -- even if they lived in a remote area. I would also like to think every child was warm and safe this Christmas.

Panic

When I was asked to write a short story for a Christmas book this year my initial reaction was to panic.

I find it easier to write a whole book than to write a short story for some reason. But then I realised that the royalties were going to the very worthy children's charity Barnardo's, so I sat down and started to write my story.

It's about a single woman with nowhere to go at Christmas. Her father is dead, her mother is abroad in the sun and all her siblings are busy with their own families. She is overwhelmed with loneliness.

I didn't have to research this character much. I, too, remember a Christmas when everybody had made plans except me, and I found myself sitting watching re-runs of The Hills by myself, thinking, my God, how did this happen? But at least I was warm, and I had plenty to eat and drink.

I thought of the old man I'd seen in the church doorway at midnight mass the night before and felt wretched. I wondered whether Santa had ever visited him. After all, he was once somebody's child, too.

All I want for Christmas (Poolbeg Press) is out now


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