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Victoria White: My dear friend is gone, so this Christmas will be about loss as well as joy

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Christmas isn't always a time of good cheer. Picture posed.

Christmas isn't always a time of good cheer. Picture posed.

Christmas carols.

Christmas carols.

Christmas.

Christmas.

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Christmas isn't always a time of good cheer. Picture posed.

It's just not going to be the same this year. There's no point trying to pretend it is.

Our friend is dead and we miss her. All the mulled wine in Ireland isn't going to change that fact, even for a minute.

We all met on a musical walking holiday 20 years ago and we've been meeting up every year to sing Christmas carols ever since.

The first time it happened by accident. We were sitting around the fire and someone struck up with 'The First Noel'.

We couldn't stop. Soon we were onto 'Away in a Manger' and 'Adeste Fideles'. We dug into our childhood memories and sang Christmas carols until we could sing no more.

The next year we had photocopies of the words and the following year we had bound them into books.

carols

"The Carols" came to be among the dearest Christmas rituals in our lives, the night on which Christmas truly began.

It grew and grew until some years there might be 40 people squeezed into the house, singing their hearts out.

Every year there were highs, such as 'In the Bleak Mid-Winter' and 'I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas', with gorgeous harmonies provided by the few of us who are in choirs.

The lows, including the bit that we always missed out in Fairytale of New York, and our ill-judged attempt to sing the Halleluljah Chorus, made us sick laughing.

Our friend was at the heart of it every year, even when she was sick.

She had a beautiful voice and we would all go quiet to hear her sing 'Silent Night' in Irish, then in English, and then in the German she learned as a child.

Listening to her was like listening to the voice of our own childhoods.

It's impossible to believe she will never sing it again, at least not in this world. But it's true.

She got sick again earlier in the year. She died a month ago. And I just can't do "The Carols" without her.

I can't switch on the fairy lights and heat the mince pies and give out the song sheets like I did every Christmas, down through the years.

The children are devastated. They've never had a Christmas that didn't involve our group of friends arriving at the house with boxes of sweets.

They had their own rituals, like taking advantage of the mulled brains of the adults and having water fights in the freezing garden.

But they felt the magic of the music too.

They'd wander into the kitchen to shout "We all want a figgy pudding!" and they'd end up Walking in a Winter Wonderland.

The night would feel holy as if the world was going to be completely different the next day.

But this year they'll have to make do with their parents and a pack of cards. It's hard to tell children that Christmas is never going to be the same again.

But at least we still have each other. It's nothing compared with the grief of my friend's family.

rituals

And maybe it's a good lesson in what life's about. It's about loss as well as happiness.

Once you're an adult there's a dream or a person you've lost along the way and it eats away at you when the year turns.

There's nothing particularly joyous about facing a New Year when someone you loved will never see it. Christmas just marks the growing distance between you.

I don't think it's any harm my kids are learning that early. The pain and suffering of some of us at this time of year is made worse when we don't admit that things change, and push on with the same rituals regardless.

When we sit around the table, grim under our paper hats, and no-one mentions the empty chair.

I'm not going to do that. This year my Christmas will be so quiet that I'll be able to hear my friend singing "Silent Night, Holy Night" in German whenever I close my eyes.


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