Christ­mas puts on pres­sure to make it a per­fect one for the fam­ily

Man­ag­ing present ex­pec­ta­tions and ar­gu­ing about tra­di­tions awaits

The Irish Times - Tuesday - Health - - Front Page - Jen Ho­gan

‘You should prob­a­bly start writ­ing your let­ters to Santa,” I said to my chil­dren. It was still Novem­ber, but I was think­ing about how much I had to do in such a short space of time – and one of those in­volved beat­ing The Late Late Toy Show and the po­ten­tial sud­den mind changes that it can bring.

I did a quick Google re­cently. Di­vorce, death and mov­ing house were listed among the most stress­ful events in our lives – but sur­pris­ingly there was no men­tion of man­ag­ing Christ­mas ex­pec­ta­tions.

It’s not that I’m the Grinch. Far from it – I’ve al­ways loved Christ­mas. My favourite Christ­mas movie is Na­tional Lam­poon’s Christ­mas Va­ca­tio­nand I think I may pos­si­bly be mar­ried to Clark W Gris­wold’s real-life al­ter-ego, but with such a love of Christ­mas comes a pres­sure to make it per­fect. A per­fect Christ­mas with all of us en­joy­ing ev­ery sin­gle mo­ment and as­pect of it and ne’er a cross word spoke.

So we’re doomed from the begin­ning.

Christ­mas tra­di­tions in our own fam­i­lies var­ied sig­nif­i­cantly. Some we’ve com­bined, some we’ve com­pro­mised on, some we’ve started anew and some we still ar­gue about ev­ery year.

Ev­ery. Sin­gle. Year.

An­tic­i­pa­tion

It seems Santa didn’t wrap the presents he brought to my hus­band’s home.

“What do you mean Santa didn’t wrap your gifts?” I asked in­cred­u­lously, on learn­ing it for the first time as we con­tem­plated our own daugh­ter’s first Christ­mas morn­ing. “Sure part of the magic is the an­tic­i­pa­tion of see­ing what’s in­side the wrapped parcels,” I con­tin­ued, con­vinced my in-laws had some rather out­landish Christ­mas no­tions, and adamant Santa would wrap ours – as was surely nor­mal prac­tice.

Less con­tro­ver­sially, we have con­tin­ued with vis­it­ing Santa on my birth­day ev­ery year – a tra­di­tion left over from my own child­hood and thanks to hav­ing so many younger sib­lings a tra­di­tion that’s meant my daugh­ter will be mak­ing the an­nual pil­grim­age for the 18th time this year. Even Santa has spot­ted our cus­tom, re­mark­ing, “Ah it’s the Von Trapps again” upon en­coun­ter­ing us last year, ev­i­dently obliv­i­ous to the less than tune­ful ver­sion of Imag­ine Dragon’s Be­liever that was be­ing belted out by two of the boys as they waited in line.

We al­ways stayed at home on Christ­mas Day when I was a lit­tle girl, while my hubby, his par­ents and sib­lings made the trip to the big smoke to have Christ­mas din­ner with his gran and ex­tended fam­ily. There hasn’t re­ally been a need for de­bate here as the years have passed and our fam­ily has grown. These days we’re about as pop­u­lar with po­ten­tial din­ner hosts as we are with babysit­ters – both run scream­ing in the op­po­site di­rec­tion at the prospect.

Great snow

And so, thank­ful that we are our own ver­sion of “rent a crowd”, Christ­mas din­ner takes place in our home. The tur­key and ham are cooked on Christ­mas Eve and the smell of Christ­mas fills the air – ex­cept that time in 2010 when it didn’t. The great snow had come and there was yet another new Ho­gan on the block. A call came from the kitchen to say that the bird wasn’t brown­ing.

That was the year that the schools closed for much of De­cem­ber, get­ting to the shops was a night­mare, I had a six-week-old baby and my cooker packed in on Christ­mas Eve!

There was a time for a while that Christ­mas lost its magic for me. A time fol­low­ing a mis­car­riage at Christ­mas when the lights and the car­ols re­minded me of the baby I should have had. And though I went through the mo­tions of Christ­mas for my other chil­dren it was the birth some years later of a very spe­cial Christ­mas baby that fi­nally healed my heart. The one who sees hav­ing a birth­day so close to Christ­mas as a won­der­ful thing, “be­cause ev­ery­one is so happy”.

“We’ll put up the tree in a few weeks,” I of­fered to my three- and five-year-olds, by way of con­so­la­tion for re­mov­ing the Hal­loween lights. “Now let’s get those Santa let­ters writ­ten,” I con­tin­ued.

“It’s a bit early to write to Santa,” my Christ­mas baby perked up. “Not at all,” I replied. “He’ll need lots of no­tice from a house with this many chil­dren,” I added, while gri­mac­ing in­ter­nally at the thoughts of the over­time the Chief Elf faced with all the present-wrap­ping that lay ahead . . .

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