My sister came over to see me this Christmas and we got to reminiscing about what Christmases were like when we were small. My sister wore my mother's swan ear rings as a way of holding her close on Christmas Day because our mother has been dead for twelve years.I always wonder, given that we have money and warmth and time and other people, why we fiind Christmas so hard to enjoy and I think of all of us standing in queues in the supermarkets, determinedly cheerful - or in some cases not, as they fight over the last turkey in M&S and the overworked staff are obliged to hold back their frustrations.
Amongst the tinsel and the decorations we carry our memories and our unreal expectations of how perfect it could be.
Among the food and drink we hurry away to shed a few tears in private or find our best wine glasses shattered on the floor as though it were a slight cracking of some heart over all that we have lost, all that we wish Christmas to be. I think of the last Christmas I spent with my husband and I am always aware that I cover it in glory and perfection and although it was wonderful in many ways one of our cats ran away on Christmas night and never came back and I can remember standing outside under the stars and crying over it.
The Christmas after my husband died I took my seven year old daughter to the pantomime as we did every year and had booked immediately after the one before. I managed to go to the pantomime again this year with my favourite three year old but it was hard. I sat clenched throughout the whole first half and didn't understand the panic at first. How strange - they say that the mind forgets but the body never does.
One Christmas my daughter and I went to stay in a hotel in Pitlochry. There we were surrounded by a saga Christmas get away, old people with white hair and zimmer frames. Then there was the one in Edinburgh where somebody set off the fire alarms smoking pot in their bedroom and we all ended up standing outside in Charlotte Square while the fire engines arrived, halfway through what should have been a lovely dinner. Katy is a vegetarian and discovered that Scotland was not a good place for her to have Christmas. One waiter tried to confuse her by telling her that cock a leekie soup was full of vegetables, which it is of course and she was offered various pasties featuring cheese and broccoli
Then there was the year we went to York and she slept the day through and I spent an hour in the nearest Spar shop buying milk.
Once Christmas day is over, the ghost of Christmas present and his tawdry gifts is gone with a sigh of relief from many people and the ghost of Christmas to come slides in by the back door, hiding amidst the by now dusty cards, the discarded wrapping paper and the empty chocolate boxes and then beware because we have all indulged so we punish ourselves during January by dieting and not drinking and taking various awful forms of exercise so that we as well as the weather are miserable. We feel bad about the wine and the cake we hid behind while we endured yet another English Christmas.
I think of Dickens at Christmas and how he tried to rid himself of the poverty of his childhood, the betrayal of his parents, the weakness of his father, his spendthrift son and his many children who had to be supported under the horrors of his creaking marriage, writing and writing so that his life like our Christmases could be bettered by money and brandy butter.
Inside us all I think there is a Scrooge thinking, 'oh hell, not again', the sting of our empty bank balances staying with us as we bread and water our way into the rest of the winter. So spare a thought for us all, how hard we try, how brave we are. We are not really greedy and drunken and self seeking, we stumble through as best we can, blaming the awful television, the queues in Sainsburys and one another for the plain horror of the season. And somewhere inside we hold on to the idea that sooner or later we will be back to those perfect Christmases such as my sister and I had when we were small children, when the Salvation Army came on Christmas morning and played carols outside the door, we danced in the snow and my dad fixed lights all around the huge picture window in the lounge. We would run to the bottom of the garden and tell him each year that they were the best and always of course they were.