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Driving the four hours to Donegal I had time to think of the anti-Christmas comments I heard the night before:
“Sure, it’s a cold dark time of the year”.
“I think it’s a sad time of the year”.
“Jeez it’s not Christmas already is it”.
They all thought I was going mad when I said I love everything about Christmas.
We are lucky that we avoid the loneliness many other pensioners face at Christmas. We spend the holidays with my son and his wife and their three children. We usually arrive while the excited children listen to the radio as Santa Claus calls out the names of children and places he will be visiting that night. As the elves help with packing the sleigh all ears are cocked to hear if Santa Claus mentions a Sean, Emily, or Joseph from Donegal and when these names are called their eyes and feet dance in frenzied excitement as confirmation of his coming is heard.
Finally we hear Santa Claus is on his way and now comes a very traditional part of Christmas Eve. The family ritual of lighting the Christmas Candle at dusk is carried out by the youngest person in the house, and this year it will be two-year-old Joseph.
When Sean and Emily his older siblings lit their candle we put the candle on a large deep soup dish covered in holly with an ample supply of red berries swathing the candle. We made a taper from newspaper which we lit from the pine log fire, and put the lit taper into a chubby dimpled fist. With the assistance of Daddy the un co-ordinate hand was guided to the wick causing the candle to splutter into a warm gentle light casting shadows on the walls which dance as the candle flickers sometimes catching a down draught breeze from the recently cleaned for Santa Claus chimney.
It is then that for some mystifying reason a sense of quietness and whispering voices descend on the house. Young ears are strained hoping not to hear the sound of a bell or worst still a sleigh or hooves landing on the roof and you not tucked up asleep in your bed or cot.
This is a unique night as the children volunteer to go to bed early allowing Santa Claus start his world wide delivery service and the children perhaps instinctively know he needs all the time he can get to manage this miraculous task.
But before bed and with everyone in pyjamas and onesies we sit around in candlelight and sing carols. There is something about singing carols by candle light in the depths of mid-winter that is evocative of childhood and it touches me deeply as thoughts I assumed were long since buried come flooding back to me. I fight back my tears as “Silent Night” is sung with fervour and sweet voiced innocence by my grandchildren.
Thank God for Rudolf and Frosty the Snowman and the jollity these songs bring and on their cheery notes the children make their way uncomplainingly to bed. All tucked snugly in their beds I now read “The night before Christmas” and as Saint Nick is mentioned slowly the eyes close and then closing the door I make my escape as quietly as the poems mouse and join the adults downstairs.
A place is made for me on the sofa and surrounded by those who are precious to me I sip my glass of mulled wine as the sprouts’ and who likes white turkey meat are mentioned .I am not really listening but instead reflecting on Santa Claus bringing me my predictable socks and jumper as I sleep but really if he forgets I forgive that overworked man.
And then I sadly think of the Christmas detractors and I have to say to them: Keep Christmas; Christmas with its burning of the pine log - the dreams - the fantasy - the warmth – and above all, the sharing, the caring, and the giving. And if you are fortunate like me and experience these things also, you know why I love Christmas.