Thursday, January 2, 2014

Polly Finds Light At The End Of That Tunnel After All...

Happy New Year! There a so many ways to bestow good wishes upon people celebrating the new year, sadly the world as it is today isn't all that it seems and all too often neither are words...

For the first time in many years I found myself actually looking forward to Christmas. This is to the extent that I purchased a much threatened oasis ring to allow me to keep my annual wreath looking festive over the season. It allowed me to enjoy the fruits of my work and even to boast about it on facebook. I took photos and even cleaned my white double glazed front door especially (but not in that order!)

While there are many firsts in the above paragraph the important one is that I enjoyed all of it, even the cleaning of the door! Fortuitously one grateful mum had given me a beautiful poinsettia plant which provided much needed festive red with which to adorn my famous wreath. A few carefully selected 'flowers' allowed me to enjoy both the plant and the fruits of my labours for days on end, which isn't bad really considering that it's now the second day of January 2014.

Sadly, on account of particularly high winds I ended up taking my festive greeting to all who stood upon my doorstep inside, hanging it on the inside of the hall window instead. Incidentally this window had been washed inside and out too. However my not being the model housewife is sadly something which is ingrained into the very core of my being. As a result the incumbent windowsill has yet to be cleared of the brown envelopes stuffed with used stamps that appeared in the run up to Christmas. But that's another story for another day...

Looking back on many Christmases past, I've dreaded them. I've become less and less cheerful with each passing day in the run up to them and have been pretty miserable with it. I recently described myself as being somewhat akin the Dr Seuss's Grinch! But not this year! So, what's changed?

I'll let you into a little secret: I'm broke! Okay, so's everyone else now that the season of excess has passed us by. I wonder though, are they broke due to Christmas or were they broke before? Personally I'm a few quid richer than I was before the grand ripping open of carefully parcelled gifts and envelopes and I'm grateful for it. I wonder some more about how many are lucky enough to be able to say that out loud and not worry about what other people think?

Truth be told I love everything about Christmas except the excesses. For me the giving is worth far more than the receiving, although that's nice too! What I passionately dislike is how early the cynical exploitation of the short season begins. It's bad enough that it's been known to start just after Halloween, though having recently watched a series about Liberty of London it would appear that July is the new Christmas Eve...

Once upon a time the switching on of the Christmas lights in a nearby town or city was a time for celebration. Indeed the switching on of your own Christmas lights was too. Though I can't help but ask if it is in either case any more. Some of my friends have managed to keep that particular part of the season magic, perhaps due to having girls or maybe the fact that their presence hasn't been demanded elsewhere. One of the big disadvantages of working in the health care sector is the demand on family life, especially over the holidays.

I love real Christmas trees, the bigger the better. I dislike tinsel ones. I dislike metal ones. I dislike branches of conifer suspended from big metal frame ones but I LOVE real ones. Every year, until recently I've spent some of my Christmas money visiting stores selling off their seasonal stock keeping a careful eye out for baubles made of natural materials. Fine glass, straw, wood, wire and paper are what adorn my tree and I love it.

Many of my ornaments have either been retired or damaged by successive years of small boys, cats and dogs getting carried away chasing one another around the sitting room. Madly I've a whole box of them up in the attic which I've saved for my boys, in the vain hope that when they leave home they'll want to take some family cheer with them for that all important first Christmas.

This year reality hit when I watched people of all ages shopping in charity & thrift shops for decorations to adorn their trees. Next year there will be a little bit more to go around as I intend to donate my full box of tinsel and unloved plastic baubles. And it won't be just as part of the post season de-clutter. I'll be down there in December 2014. If there are people out there who would genuinely benefit then let them enjoy their newly discovered treasures...

Like other people I've always enjoyed shopping. Preferably not boring food shopping, but Christmas presents to give to my nearest and dearest. Sadly this has been spoiled by over zealous spending and crazed expectations although my way of dealing with this may have appeared slightly eccentric during the realm of the Celtic Tiger, but has always stood me in good stead. Expensive presents have been delivered to the house, ie the householder aka me. It's allowed me to justify the purchase of items like a Playstation and not have to deal with petty squabbles over ownership.

Santa Claus has always delivered the smaller gifts to this family, since long before my time. As a child there were always chocolate coins, clementines, nuts, a real coin (small denominations) and a small surprise or two like a comic, plasticine or bubble bath. My boys were somewhat luckier; Santa was obviously better off and  delivered the odd action man alongside the ubiquitous clementine, etc. Bubbles and gloop being disallowed inside during the year were always  a good, inexpensive triumph, as were small puzzles or musical instruments. One year he brought two sets of oval battle magnets - IF I EVER GET MY HANDS ON HIM...! They woke us rudely at 3.30am with a terrifying sound that I'll never forget just minutes after they were delivered...

What I vehemently disapproved of was when HE foolishly splashed out on Gameboy or Nintendo DS games as they were big presents and should've been given by us mere mortals in an effort to capture the hearts of the children for just one day of the year! It's not the size that matters, it's the size of the bill. And so the bottle of snot, vomit, dog poo, eyeballs, etc were always popular. Until the year my youngest admitted that he'd stopped believing in Santa. Where from then?

In terms of present giving by humans it was the same as any other Christmas, but it was strange. Santa's probably as exciting for the parents as it is for the children and for the second time in my life Christmas just wasn't the same. Still, at least we got to play hero for a day or two, eh? Last year something rather odd happened in our house though. Santa started delivering again. Admittedly it was essential grooming items such as gel, aftershave, shampoo, a slightly more grown up comic and a hair brush, plus the ever present clementine and chocolate coins. This year it was much the same only they got a light sabre too!

It's the little things that make Christmas, like a well chosen book or recording of a favourite artist, a warm scarf or pair of socks, something that will be appreciated without breaking the bank. This said there are always exceptions! Time spent in preparation of rich traditional foods is time well spent, but it can be hard to appreciate it when bombarded with adverts on TV, magazines and newspapers from much earlier in the year. Christmas cake and mince pies abound and are force fed from early December, however I generally refuse to give in to this temptation as it just spoils whatever is served up on the day itself!

Visits to Santa Claus in shopping centres, malls, garden centres and stately homes, etc start earlier each year, while costing just that little bit more and for what? It's a sad day when a four year old asks Mum if Santa's really real and yet we buy into the done thing, keeping up with the neighbours and the Jones's each year and then wonder why this is. Even the children are more cynical than they used to be!

My four year old niece turned five just a week after Santa visited. Thankfully she came to visit her Irish relations where we've succeeded in keeping the magic for a few years longer than our UK cousins. Perhaps it was the sleigh bells ringing, apparently another of our nieces heard them so Santa must have been nearby at least!

Traditions may vary, but eventually the cold reality will have to hit home. The fact that we're in the middle of the worst recession since post war years may have something to do with this happening in more homes than ever this year. That it's a shame, there's no doubt. But, if it means families and communities are pulling together as a result of the death of a certain Celtic Tiger and its excesses, maybe it's not quite as bad as it could be?

With shows like the Great British Bake Off, the Great British Sewing Bee, Kirsty's Handmade Christmas and the like the writing's on the wall. More and more people are waking up to the whole ideal behind the handmade movement also known as make do & mend! More people are baking at home, or so the sales of cookery books, dvd's, accessories, etc would have you believe. On the world wide interwebs there are inumerable websites and blogs dedicated to just good old fashioned values once thought lost in the affluent society driving the Celtic Tiger.

Thankfully as I've already stated we're a bit different over here on the Emerald Isle. We've saved Santa Claus from redundency in the same way as farmer's wives & country women we've continued to make our own preserves, cakes and puddings to keep us going over the winter months. We've saved some of that old fashioned magic for posterity and we're hopefully only a generation or so away from the real world. For heaven's sake we're still keeping our home fires burning with good old fashioned peat when the rest of Europe's given up on it decades ago! Even if the whole process has been mechanised. Hopefully this means that there's light at the end of the tunnel after all rather than an indication of our being ever so slightly backward...

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