Here it comes again. Sigh. I’ve never really enjoyed Christmas. All that forced jollity. All those relatives. All the constant eating and drinking. And the games; oh, the embarrassing games. I can just about manage Scrabble but the ones where you have to draw something or, worse still, impersonate something, just make me cringe and want to hide behind the sofa. Add to that I’m a terrible present-chooser and an even worse wrapper-upper.
But there’s something about having an almost-three-year-old around that can soften even the hardest cynic. For her, the joy is about as far from forced as you can get. It’s just bubbling up and out and over everyone and even into me. Although the Christmas run-up seemed to start even earlier than usual this year (the big Christmas lights “switch on” was November 17th. November 17th!), her enthusiasm hasn’t waned. It’s grown incrementally as we count more Christmas trees in windows each day on the walk home from nursery. It’s reaching a crescendo and she seems to be timing it perfectly.
So, our own tree is up (earlier than I would normally allow), the baubles are up (and down, and up again, and a couple squashed underfoot, and a few of the chocolates look like a mouse has been at them, but mostly up), the presents are gathering underneath. The refrain of, “Can I open my advent calendar yet?” comes earlier each day. We’ve made wonky mince pies together, picked the berry-laden holly that peeps over the wall of the school grounds onto the road (Is that scrumping? We only took a bit…) and made a wreath for the front door. We’ve filled the cracks between the floor boards with glitter and tiny stars while making Christmas cards, we’ve wrapped Daddy’s presents together when he wasn’t looking, and wrapped ourselves in Christmas sticky-tape at the same time.We even wasted a fiver going to see Father Christmas at the garden centre (rampant commercialism, of course, but he did have a nice donkey – isn’t someone getting a bit mixed-up with their Christmas stories there?).
Of course, it’s also a time for reflection. Hot on the heels of Christmas will come Hogmanay (which I usually find even more depressing than Christmas), and with Benjamin just turning one, there’s more than the odd opportunity to think on how things have changed over the last year and what the future might hold. Will Benjy ever anticipate the arrival of Father Christmas? Will he ever unwrap his own presents? Ever pull a cracker? Ever sing a carol? Ever eat a sprout?
Yet things have changed since his first Christmas. At three weeks old he would barely take a bottle, or a breast. We thought he was blind. We were constantly checking his temperature, his breathing, too consumed with keeping him alive to consider playing with him. Almost imperceptibly, he’s grown, developed, learned. Now, while he might not be tearing at the wrapping paper, at the sound of jingle-bells a delighted smile consumes his whole face. While he might not understand crackers, show him some fairy lights and he reaches out for them. While he might not belt out carols with his sister, he’ll happily sit and watch the candles flickering in the window. And yes, he damn well will eat a sprout: it might be pureed, but why should he escape when the rest of us have to suffer? There’s plenty about Christmas that Benjamin can take pleasure in, and to share that with him (and his sister) is the greatest joy of all.