Gifts? Just a squeeze of a loved-one’s hand will do

Scottish Daily Mail - - Weekender - JOHN COOPER’S WEEKENDER

MELANCHOLY, I know all too well, is as much a part of Christ­mas as hap­pi­ness. The ghost of Christ­mas Past is never more than one foot­step be­hind Christ­mas Present…

Though I know the feel­ing, those words are not mine. They are filched from Paul Drury, a fab­u­lous jour­nal­ist I was hon­oured to work along­side at the Mail in Dublin.

It is from a piece he wrote a decade ago be­moan­ing the chang­ing face of Christ­mas, a sea­son that – like Pri­vate Eye mag­a­zine – some­how limps on de­spite ev­ery­body be­ing agreed that it’s not half as good as it used to be.

A taste of melancholy is fine, but Paul took refuge from the maudlin with a ‘silent and se­cret’ squeeze of his young son’s hand on a fes­tive shop­ping trip.

Amidst the feast of mam­mon that our com­mer­cialised and re­li­gion-free Yule has be­come, that’s a lovely re­minder of what we all al­ready, deep down, know.

The magic of the sea­son is not found in glit­ter­ing shopfronts or wrapped be­neath the tree, but in the hu­man touch.

We can all re­call those fab­u­lous mo­ments from years gone by when Santa de­liv­ered the per­fect present.

But, ac­tu­ally, aren’t our fond­est me­mories those of the peo­ple we spent those mo­ments with?

The bleary-eyed grand­par­ents who hadn’t been awake that early since re­tir­ing; the lesser-spot­ted cousins from dis­tant lands (well, the Loth­i­ans, any­way).

And maybe the fam­ily games and of course the din­ners and the sto­ries about that time dad and had too much port…

In an age when so many are by ne­ces­sity scat­tered ge­o­graph­i­cally, the best gift is to­geth­er­ness rooted in the ‘driv­ing home for Christ­mas’ spirit that is so piv­otal to most fam­i­lies at this time of year.

Yet Christ­mas for so many work­ers who must dance at­ten­dance on to­day’s 24/7, 365 so­ci­ety is a dif­fi­cult time. Many’s the empty seat at the din­ner ta­ble on the Big Day be­cause of the ex­i­gen­cies of work.

Other seats are empty be­cause, as time marches in­ex­orably on, some peo­ple – like Paul him­self, dead at 57 – are sadly with us only in mem­ory.

If a pos­i­tive is to be drawn from the way we live now it is that it makes that lit­tle se­cret squeeze of the hand in a mo­ment snatched from the de­mand­ing maw of the of­fice and Old Fa­ther Time a lit­tle sweeter. Rar­ity al­ways adds value.

IAM glad Paul wrote about that ten­der mo­ment with his son amidst bustling shop­pers. It means he savoured it, re­turn­ing again in his mind to the joy it brought him. And I hope his lad, by now on the cusp of man­hood, re­calls that dis­tant shop­ping trip with fond­ness.

Never has a truer word been spo­ken than ‘they grow up so fast’ and it’s from fleet­ing lit­tle mo­ments that fam­i­lies can build a stock of joy­ous me­mories on which to look back.

Oh, there’ll be spats and huffs and walk-outs and slights both real and imag­ined. That’s life.

But as well as a chance to in­dulge, Christ­mas is – much more im­por­tantly – a chance to add to that bank vault of pre­cious rec­ol­lec­tions.

And there’ll be enough wee se­cret squeezes of loved ones’ hands to go round.

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