Forty-five years ago I would have found it very difficult to get to sleep on Christmas Eve. It was just too exciting looking forward to what tomorrow would bring. At some point, though, sleep would conquer and carry me through to the morning to find that the pillow case hung on the back of the bedroom door had magically been filled with presents. I can remember quite vividly the year I got a complete set of the AA Milne books!
Tonight I will have no trouble getting to sleep – I know pretty well what tomorrow will bring. A visit to my sister, then a monumental meal courtesy of Alex’s mother followed by a prolonged crash on the sofa. In recent years there has been the added bonus (and noise!) of the nieces and nephews as they frantically tear the Hello Kitty and Ben 10 paper off several hundred pounds worth from the Early Learning Centre.
But with time, and once you discover that Santa is actually the Co-op janitor on overtime, the gilt rather comes off the gingerbread. At work the other day I was accused of “not entering into the Christmas spirit”. I was likened to Scrooge. This, however, is very unfair, not to say inaccurate as Scrooge ended up keeping Christmas better than any man. There are bits of it that I still like. The feeling right now that the country is slowing down for a day of leisure. The companionship of family on Christmas day. The evening back at home with the rest of the world shut out and the knowledge that if the phone rings it really will be something important.
Yes! I still enjoy Christmas, but it makes me sad as well. Christmas is supposed to be a time of great joy and happiness. But it can also become a cruel, dark and lonely thing. I will give you an example.
It was only fairly recently that I found out why one of my family members always wears black on Boxing Day. That is her story and I’ll leave her tell it if she wishes. I have a very cruel image of Christmas day which I will carry forever.
For more than three decades I have been a member of a local hospital radio station. Traditionally we broadcast on Christmas morning and very often we would do so, not from our usual studio, but from one of the entrance halls. That way we could talk to visitors and send greetings to the patients.
A great deal happens in a hospital on Christmas day – the surgeons turn up to carve the turkey, carol singers will come round and, at some point, a fire engine will turn up bearing gifts for the children’s ward. Altogether, it’s quite a jolly time.
But underneath all this, it’s still a functioning hospital – a fact rammed home one particular Christmas morning when a car screeched to a halt outside. A women emerged screaming hysterically and cuddling a very young baby. She was rapidly followed by her partner and mother. The anguish they were suffering was terrible to see. Their present that “happy morn” had been cot death.
I have never had a Christmas since then when I haven’t been reminded of their suffering – and if I remember it how much more raw a reminder that family has each and every year.
I sincerely hope that every single one of you has a thoroughly great day tomorrow, but I would ask one thing of you. Spare just a few moments to think about those who won’t be enjoying themselves quite so much. Those who will suffer tragedy or loss; those who have to work to maintain emergency services; those forced to spend the day separated from their family and friends; those for whom Christmas day will be just like any other, full of cold, hunger, poverty or loneliness.