I have a confession to make. I am a true blue Christmas Junkie. I love the glitter and tat, I live for fairy lights and I start planning shopping lists and festive menus sometime around September when the kids go back to school.
This year though, something for me went awry. No matter what I have done, be it putting my tree up a week early, to visiting the local German food market for some bratwurst (I grew up in Germany so this is a sure-fire winner to kick start my festive buzz) I just couldn't feel it.
image courtesy of shutterstock
Even the launch of the great Christmas media-athon has failed to elicit my warm and fuzzies. Normally I eagerly anticipate the launch of the John Lewis ad at least. Last year's snowman braving the wilds to bring his snow-lady love a scarf and hat held the whole family in thrall for weeks with its heart-warming sound track and determined little Mr Frosty. This year's Hare and Bear, whilst undoubtedly cute, just made me feel a bit, well, 'meh' (sorry advertising folks). All the adverts feel cynical - pulling on our heartstrings to generate some cash.
It isn't helping that everything feels so 'samey' somehow. Same tree, same reality shows churning out the same type of winners, same lights, and same failed attempt to avoid the giant January credit card bill. I have kids who love the season too but even their youthful enthusiasm has not been able to shake me from my glitter-season blues. You have to BOOK to see Santa in my area at a cost roughly that of a cinema ticket. For five minutes with a fat man in a fake beard. Ho ho HOW MUCH?
So what happened to release me from the confines of my decidedly Scrooge-like slump? A trip to the doctors believe it or not. Somewhere in the stench of other people's bugs, a delay of nearly an hour on my allotted appointment time and some delightful piped Christmas tunes a change occurred.
An old man and his wife came into the waiting room. He was leading her by the hand, she was incredibly frail looking and quite confused, potentially struggling with Dementia of some kind.
They sat next to me and I was immediately struck by how nurturing this man was. He checked she felt okay, guided her to her seat and began chatting with her, delicately ignoring the confusion she experienced and the resultant subject changes.
The topic of conversation came around to Christmas - the lady was delighted by the slightly tinny music playing and started humming along, totally disregarding any kind of hesitation or social insecurity. The man smiled and started talking about past Christmases and the woman's face changed in an instant. The confusion cleared, animation returned and with it came the woman I imagine the man knew, lighting his face in return. They discussed their first Christmas, funny memories of their children - he softly prompting her if her memory clouded once more and finally, this Christmas.
The old lady was saddened that it would just be them - apparently some friends had died that year. But the man promised her a lovely feast, discussing the entire menu with her and demonstrating once again how committed he was to this woman who to all the world looked like an old lady, but to him was clearly a precious treasure to be protected and preserved.
At that moment their call to the surgery dinged and they tottered their way to their appointment - he holding the doors and his wife's hands all the way. That was their routine and I have no idea what happened after that, my own appointment was called.
They don't know me and certainly couldn't pick me out of a line-up if they tried but I will forever have them etched in my memory with more than a little gratitude.
I am slightly ashamed to admit it but so often I like so many others almost look through the elderly. I see the 'old' well before I see the people and find myself shrinking back in discomfort at wizened features, hunched spines and the air of declining of health. In truth old age scares me. My own beloved grandmother is in a home and seeing a once vital woman, so like myself, trapped in a gilded cage for her own safety only served to reinforce my intense anxiety at the process of ageing and yet if we are very lucky it will come to us all, early deaths notwithstanding, which is certainly not what most of us aim for.
That man and his wife reminded me of something quite special. Firstly they are not old people. They are people, with loves and lives of their own. A lifetime of joys and sorrows and at the end of what appeared to have been a long life, it is Christmas and the memory of family and friends that gave her husband the most wonderful gift - a few moments with his wife.
That is what Christmas is. Love. It is so cheesy I know, I can smell the gorgonzola from here myself but like so many clichés it is the truth. She didn't talk of the gifts she bought, the presents she received, the lights or the tree. I heard no mention of X-Factor winners or the cost of turkey these days. She lit up at the memory of dancing, of laughing, of silly jokes and her children's faces. That IS Christmas and I am so grateful of that reminder - somehow I had lost that in the maelstrom of the sparkle and glitz.
This year, please do spare a moment in amongst the wrapping and stuffing for the many people who happen to be getting on a bit over the festive season. It will be us one day losing friends, memories and health - I really hope that someone takes care of me when it is - so I went to the Help the Aged site (http://www.ageuk.org.uk/). I know it is a tough time of year but I urge you, do consider giving some time or money to support their work. It will be our turn soon enough.
Merry 'moments-of-joy' mas, as I think it should be renamed, to you all.