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Victoria White: Sorry mum, the silver still isn't done ... I've learned to love Christmas for what it is

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This Christmas I'm going to kill my mother.

Ah God, you're saying, that's a bit extreme.

The hell it is, when you think what she does to me. Whispering to me from about mid-November about cleaning the silver.

I have no silver. At least I might have four silver spoons and one silver salt cellar but they're black, bent out of shape, done for by the dishwasher.

So that's not a good start. Not a good start at all.

Well, she says, at least get the Christmas flower arrangements done, for the love of God.

Now the last time I saw an oasis was across a sick bag on a cheap holiday in Tunisia 20 years ago.

I do not own a green sponge for sticking flowers in.

And so my confidence begins to fade. Bit by bit she convinces me my house is going to be horrible at Christmas. Not like our house when I was a child. All gleaming wood and softly sputtering candles.

dangerous

We even had candles on the Christmas tree which were stuck into special little holders. On Christmas Eve my mother would light them and myself and my cousin would sing Silent Night...whether we liked it or not.

There were no Christmas tree lights for us. That was "common" - which was shorthand for cheap and available.

We had to have something hard and dangerous, like tree candles which often set the tree on fire.

When my mother couldn't get the candles in the shops she would give me money to put in the box and ask me to raid the candles in the nearby Catholic church.

Which was ironic because the candles on the tree were as Protestant as you could get. They came in with Queen Victoria's German husband, Prince Albert, and became the must-have of every bourgeois Protestant home.

My mother grew up on a farm in Donegal but they had their standards. A formal cooked breakfast at nine, with everyone in their best bib and tucker.

A stupendous Christmas dinner with a gigantic turkey, a ham studded with cloves, home-cooked cranberry sauce and bread sauce finished off with a flaming pudding.

And just when you were re-surfacing sometime around 10 pm my granny would lay out a cold supper complemented by fresh fruit salad and a home-made lemon mousse.

My mother did everything exactly as her mother had done. And as a child, I was in paradise at that cold supper, up late and nursing a glass of Fanta.

But my mother would have a good old puss on her face.

She would be so close to tears that anything would set her off, and one of us would usually oblige.

When I hit the teens I could feel the tension in the house. My mother's unanswered need for us to admire her sacrifice.

miserable

What could we do about it? Say, "We're sorry we've made your Christmas miserable, now go to bed and we'll bring you a brandy?"

I used to hate going to bed on Christmas night because it was all over, but my mother was relieved. I resented her for that because for me Christmas Day was the most wonderful day of the year.

So there's another difference between me and my mother and for once it's in my favour. I still love Christmas and if I could only dump the work I would love it even more.

Dumping the work means silencing my mother's voice telling me I have to be perfect. It means killing my mother, which will be an achievement because she's still going strong, although she's been dead five years.

Maybe this is the year I'll do it. Sit around the table after dinner with my four children who are getting older and won't be with us every Christmas for the rest of our lives.

For once, I'll savour the moment, loving my children's laughing faces, flashing blue and red and green under the cheapest, tackiest Christmas lights I can find.


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