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They tell you that Christmas phobia is like a holiday phobia that stems from ‘some early childhood Christmas related trauma’ but your early childhood Christmases were fine. They were better than fine, they were idyllic, magical, wondrous times filled with writing letters, poking presents to see if you could “guess”, mandarin oranges and ginger ale and everyone sitting around watching grossly unsuitable movies like Jaws or Airplane or The Towering Inferno and how in Jesus name did she get you to sleep afterwards and you loaded up with red lemonade, Double Centres and all the party box crisps you could eat.
Playing with your new toys that had to have come from Santy because sure Mammy and Daddy didn’t have that kind of money and the annual brand new set of Flying Eagle crayons and sketchpads and books and dolls and medical sets and the big basset hound dog that you hadn’t even dreamed to ask for because he was on the expensive shelf in the shop and sure what was the point.
O Holy Night,
The stars are brightly shining…
In fact, your first twenty nine Christmases were pretty hunky dory. Even the ones where you waitressed at party nights in the local hotel for the full month beforehand arriving at the big day itself shattered but rich, back breaking from carrying trays of soup and leaning over fat businessmen whispering Beef or Turkey-and-Ham and would you like mash, sorry for leaning over you sir, but if you could try and make it a little bit easier, ah sorry, did I scald your ear there, my apologies.
But this whole phobia thing. It can start as early as August, you see, that’s the problem. All it takes is some smartarse posting a ‘100 sleeps’ post on Facebook and you curse yourself for not remembering to hide them, that they did the same last year and sure look, aren’t they entitled to post whatever they like, it’s not their fault but they get hidden till January all the same because these are the same folk that complain because the new John Lewis ad isn’t as sad as last year and you’ll only ending up screaming what is wrong with you people and you really don’t want to because sure they’re entitled…
You’re alright if they start any further back cos you can cope then, convincing yourself that it might be fine this year. That you’re over it. But the very second the evenings start to shorten, or when the schools go back in September, or when the first person says ‘Sure we won’t know it now until…’ or when someone spots the first selection box in Tescos, or someone else gleefully regales a tale about how the Christmas shop in Brown Thomas is open, or when someone innocently asks have you booked any Santa visits as ‘all the best ones get booked out’ when, when, when…
And then it’s Halloween. The tipping point for your real madness. When it’s over you’re really in trouble. Because then the evenings are black dark before even tea time, the damp starts to seep into your bones and you’re cold all the time and the cold and the dark reminds you and you’re tired because you can’t sleep because you worry about your Da, you worry about your friend, you worry about all the other people that are lying in bed worrying but most of all you worry because you’re living in absolute dread of what’s hurtling down the calendar towards you but there’s nothing you can do because you’re tied to the tracks by memories, obligations, traditions, the fact that now, you’re a mother, and there’s even more of them relying on you.
They’re all relying on you.
Because you’re the mother that’s still here.
And now it’s late November and there’s one month to go and you remember the day you got the news, the shock because you didn’t think, because there was no Google then, or if there was you didn’t know to use it, and well, you should have known, but she never said and what do you mean there’s only one month, are you sure, it’s not loads of time, it’s not enough time, it can’t be right. You can’t understand how you’re letting this happen.
And now Christmas becomes an awful excuse for the worst of everything to have a reason to exist. The worst songs, the schmaltziest movies, the itchiest Christmas jumpers and sub-quality spangly dresses that haven’t a hope of surviving an onslaught from Freddie in accounts, your only hope being that he asphyxiates himself in the cloud of glitter that explodes from the mismatched seams as he tries to dry hump your leg to Last Christmas and you have to stop him before he lands any proper damage with his big slathery gob.
And you’re so cold in the stupid dress and there’s no taxis, and it’s too dark to walk and they played Mariah instead of Taylor but you danced anyway because you love dancing and you don’t care if they’re laughing cos anyone who laughs is a fucking eejit anyway and jesus who even likes mince pies or lukewarm punch that is just not going to taste any better no matter how many cloves you shove in it and now you’ve drank too much of the stuff that you actually had to pay for and you’re going to be hungover and you’ve so much to do tomorrow because it’s the last shopping Saturday and you couldn’t face shopping on stupid Black Friday because you’d been in hiding since Undercover Thursday, still in denial that this was happening and it’s too late to order online and anyway you should shop local but there’s no parking and there’s queues and only shite left on the shelves anyway and you’d be happy to stay drowning in self-loathing until at least four o’clock but they want to see the lights, the windows, to put up the tree to watch The Toy Show again and now the little children from Crumlin Hospital montage is on a loop and you hate yourself for not accepting how good you have it compared to those poor parents, sure she was sixty three and never a day sick in her life but look at those little babbas, and them never out of the hospital a day of their lives, and the little homeless girl and sure there’s three thousand of them that Santy has to find and the Dad from the army and christ you can’t be crying again and then it’s dark and you still haven’t left the house and it’s time for the Panto and holy jesus they’re singing it on the stage, the little kids with the voices like angels…
Long lay the world in sin and error pining
Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth
But you couldn’t’ give a shite if he does appear because you’re crying hot salty tears down your face in the dark of the theatre and you’ve no tissue that you can reach so your face sinks into the mop of blonde curls that’s in front of your face as he’s on your knee, transfixed because of the colour and the lights and the songs and the other two are clapping and laughing now because the Dame has made up her own words to an Arianna Grande and we know this one and Oh Mammy that was the best panto ever, we’re so excited, can we do our letters, we love Christmas, we love it we love it we love it.
And you drive back home through the town and it’s all lit up and you remember the first year they did that fancy thing with the lights around the windows of the little Protestant Church but you’d been housebound for weeks, and never noticed till you were being driven past it down the town, the evening before Christmas Eve – Christmas Eve Eve for the love of god where’s the justice in that, that’s what you seem them mouthing as they pause out of respect as you roll past in the big black car at snail’s pace but you’re thinking that Jesus she’d love the town looking so well and then there’s the beautiful mounds of red flowers and candles in the big parish Church when you come in the door from the dark and the cold and the singing. Jesus the singing.
Fall on your knees
O hear the angels’ voices
And then you’ve to leave her there. In the red flowers and the candles and you go home and when the whiskey is drank and the sandwiches eaten and everyone is gone you take out the list that she made you write only two days ago because she knows it’s your first year married and you may be alright at lugging trays of soup round the Johnstown Inn but you’ve never even cooked a chicken before let alone an eighteen pound turkey.
And you look at the bit where she said the postman would be bringing the sprouts in his van and sure you had it written before you realised she was slipping and you sigh and start to set the table with the “Bavarian China” that she saved all the Quinnsworth stamps for and your Da’s Waterford Crystal that you’ve shined for her for over twenty years and the wedding present Newbridge silver with the heavy knives and forks and the big ornate soup spoons and make sure you steam them now, no fingerprints and what do you mean we’ve no candles, did we forget to buy candles, look in the sideboard, there’ll be an old pack and the quietness, you miss the constant stream of instructions but yet you can hear them, you need to trust yourself because it all has to be the same, if its still the same she’s still here and it can never change because if it’s all the same she’s still here.
And you remember the tape. It’s still in the old machine because sure that room is only used once a year and you press play and his voice fills the room and you remember how she’d pretend to swoon when he started to sing and why you didn’t put this tape in with her but the other one, New York, New York because it had My Way on it and sure the angels would love that and sure she always did it her way anyway and now you’re doing it her way and you start to feel better.
And it’s funny because the anniversary of the worst day becomes the first day in December every year when it all starts to get better. It’s the day you accept that it happened, and Christmas is happening and you did it that day when she lay in the church with the red flowers and the candles and it was fine and it’ll be fine again and ye’ll all be together and sure the kids, the kids and the party and them knowing no different because they never knew her, and how you’re her now and you hope that you don’t go early too but at least it’s nearly all over for another year and next year, next year you’ll go back and talk to that nice lady again and maybe this year she’ll fix you and you won’t hate December and you’ll be one of those posting Christmas countdown posts in August lamenting the fact that John Lewis could have tried harder and it’ll all be great and sure jesus who doesn’t love Christmas.
She loved Christmas.
“Don’t you just love Christmas, Mam?”
And you look down at your bright eyed eldest as she holds the soup spoons in the hot steam and rubs and rubs cos there can be no fingerprints and you know she’ll roll her eyes when you put on the tape and pretend to swoon and you check if there’s candles in the sideboard and you smile as you smooth out the thirteen year old list and wonder will this be the year that yerman brings the sprouts in the Post Office van but you shouldn’t worry about what’s next on the list because look, it’ll all be grand so you hum to yourself…
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new glorious morn.
Fall on your knees…