IT’S THAT TIME OF YEAR AGAIN.

Irish Daily Mail - YOU - - THIS LIFE -

The shop­ping cen­tres are twin­kling with fairy lights and tin­sel-wrapped trees. Shops are gift-wrap­ping wicker bas­kets of good­ies. The ad breaks are full of fes­tive jol­lies. Santa is ho-ho-ing and mak­ing his list. Yes, it must be al­most Hal­lowe’en.

As a mammy of four chil­dren, can I add my voice to the cho­rus of par­ents cry­ing: WHAT?!

Back in the day (pre­pare your­self, we’re go­ing old school now) – when sum­mer was sunny ev­ery day, you could buy your fill of sweets for £1, and you only got new clothes twice a year – I seem to re­call Christ­mas started some time around a week into De­cem­ber.

Your teacher would set ev­ery­body to work with pa­pier mâché and sen­si­ble scis­sors to dec­o­rate the class­room. Your par­ents started tot­ting up their Dunnes Stores club vouch­ers. And Santa was he­li­coptered into the lo­cal su­per­mar­ket. With a week or two to go, the Christ­mas tree came down from the at­tic – very posh peo­ple had real ones – and boxes of Tayto and crates of al­co­hol would ap­pear in the al­cove un­der the stairs.

It was a de­cent lead-in pe­riod to the most thrilling time of the year – judged just so to en­sure chil­dren had ex­actly the right amount of ex­cite­ment.

Nowa­days. Good God. Okay. I will ad­mit – I’ve breached the De­cem­ber time­line my­self. It’s just too tempt­ing as the nights draw in and your chil­dren are act­ing up at bed­time to pull out the ‘Santa is watch­ing, you know!’ line.

But, in gen­eral – and I think most par­ents would agree with me – start­ing Christ­mas in mid-Oc­to­ber is prob­lem­atic. ‘Is Santa com­ing?’ ‘No.’ ‘Is he com­ing soon?’ ‘No.’ ‘Is he com­ing now?’ ‘No. But he’s watch­ing. He’s al­ways watch­ing. Go asleep.’ In Au­gust, there was a news piece about Sel­fridges in Eng­land open­ing its Christ­mas store. Imag­ine, strolling through the sales racks look­ing for a cheap bikini for your hol­i­days and feel­ing a tug on your hand: ‘Look, mammy, they have their Christ­mas tree up. Is Santa com­ing?’

Imag­ine be­ing the poor soul as­signed to Christ­mas shop duty five months ahead. I worked in a clothes store when I was in col­lege and three years in a row our man­ager brought out the Christ­mas CD in mid-Novem­ber – we thought that was early – and it played on loop un­til New Year’s Day. There are still cer­tain songs that for me trig­ger a Pavlo­vian re­sponse of fold­ing and wrap­ping. I’d oblit­er­ate them from ex­is­tence if I could. If I worked in a big depart­ment store’s Christ­mas shop, chances are I’d chill out on the week­end by hik­ing up to a pine tree for­est with a blow­torch.

I love Christ­mas. My house­mates in col­lege nick­named me the Christ­mas Fairy when, one year, I wasted valu­able drink­ing money on a tree and a box of cheap dec­o­ra­tions. I’m not Scrooge, I’m not anti the sea­son. I just think it has its place. And I think we have ab­so­lutely lost the run of our­selves when it comes to the ma­te­rial as­pect of the day it­self. One day, that’s all it is. When I tipped into the realm of four chil­dren, all with Santa present lists, I re­alised things were get­ting out of hand. My el­dest, at 12, is in the cat­e­gory of small but re­ally ex­pen­sive gifts. My three youngest fall into the ab­so­lutely ev­ery­thing from the Smyths cat­a­logue, the big­ger the bet­ter, box. We live in a small house. Santa has to be ju­di­cious.

Hav­ing ap­proached this co­nun­drum like re­spon­si­ble adults, we then have to cope with the on­slaught of presents from well-in­ten­tioned rel­a­tives.

My hus­band’s num­ber one job in the run-up to Christ­mas is not get­ting the turkey or paint­ing the house or do­ing the tree run. It’s en­sur­ing our green bin is empty so we can re­cy­cle the plas­tic and card­board post the 25th. If we miss a bin col­lec­tion day, we have to have a cri­sis meet­ing. That can’t be right.

I want my kids to en­joy Christ­mas. I love the twin­kle of hap­pi­ness in their eyes as we ap­proach the big day, the fun on the morn­ing it­self, the tra­di­tions of din­ner and movies and daddy hav­ing a ner­vous break­down try­ing to fig­ure out the elec­tron­ics – al­ways eas­ier with a glass of wine in hand, I keep telling him.

But I want them to ap­pre­ci­ate it in its con­text. It’s a long year. There are lots of en­joy­able points along the way. The chang­ing of the sea­sons, Easter, sunny hol­i­days, long au­tumn walks, Hal­lowe’en, win­try nights.

And I want them to un­der­stand that Christ­mas is not just about the buy­ing spree in the run-up. It’s vis­it­ing and par­ties, Mass if you’re re­li­gious, spend­ing time with peo­ple you love, un­der­stand­ing there are many worse off. ‘Is Santa com­ing?’ ‘Yes. He’s com­ing on De­cem­ber 24. That’s eight weeks from now. You’ve no con­cept of how long that is, but be­lieve me, it’s an ab­so­lute age in your lit­tle world.’

Christ­mas comes but once a year. And that’s not in Oc­to­ber.

I’m not Scrooge, in fact my house­mates nick­named me the Christ­mas Fairy. I just think we’ve lost the run of our­selves

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