“Cheers!” my wife says, holding up her glass of wine. “We made it!”
And she’s right too. With the school term finally drawing to a close, we are exhausted. Trying to tie up all the loose ends at the end of the school term, just before Christmas, just as the kids are getting ill and the nights draw dark and the days are short, is the bit that really takes it out of you - whether it is sitting through the term’s final swimming session or mustering the strength to drag the children to their end-of-year Karate grading, or going to the infant’s nativity play and junior’s carol concert, or dressing the kids up for the school disco, or organising playdates, or getting the children to write their lists to Father Christmas or designing a Christmas card for the grandparents (and getting the stamps to send them!), or remembering to get the thank-you-presents for the class teacher, the piano teacher, the postman, the neighbour, and everyone else who makes your life go round. Gosh, the list goes on - and that’s all before we’ve even had to time to think about prepping for Christmas – booking the turkey, wrapping the presents, sorting the stockings (my own included!), getting the house ready for a full family descent! Indeed, there’s little left in the tank at the end of it!
So yes, we’ve earned a glass of wine. Because, yes, we’ve made it. And I expect every teacher and parent in the land would agree!
But in our house, we’ve found a way to deal with it – we start Christmas early. Simple.
We’ve decided too much time is spent running around getting ready for a Christmas holiday that is over before we’ve really had time to enjoy the fact that it started. Of course, it helps having a wife in touch with her German Heimat simply itching to cosify up the house with trinkets of festive fun and little goodies hidden in all the nooks and crannies - and if it lets me crack open the nuts and have an Irish whiskey cream, I’m game!
And so, on the first of December, we light the open fire and gather the children around the table, bringing out the homemade advent calendar to spend the evening filling it up with goodies and treats (sampling each one on the way in, of course!).
But it begins. A month of festive fun, sprinkled with activities throughout. A wreath is placed on the kitchen table, and the children get to light the candles each morning as the month passes (talk about playing with fire!). On December 6th, shoes are placed outside the kids’ bedrooms, so they awake the following morning to see if St. Nicholas has left them a little present (he always does!). Then the tree is brought in from the cold, and together we spend a lazy weekend decorating it with little wooden toys, hanging gingerbreads, tiny sledges, horses, elves, baubles, and of course, fairy lights. And generally the house is filled with song and cloved-oranges and smells of cinnamon.
And on December unfolds, with little things here and little things there; with warm fires in the evenings, with extra family film nights, with extra bedtime stories, with extra games and family time (and the extra glass of wine, naturally!). We draw it out. We try and make it last. We try and wring out every last drop. Because when all is said and done, at the end of the day, when all the clichés are said, we realise that the children grow up all too fast. It dawns on us that actually this period of our family doesn’t last that long. The magic of Christmas disappears all too quickly; it vanishes before our eyes, as the children grow and don’t want to sit around the tree singing like the Von Trapps, and don’t want to sit in front of the fire watching Blue Planet II; they begin to question if Father Christmas really exists, and they want to see more of their friends and have more screen time and listen to their play lists on their tablet in their rooms. It goes. So fast. And so we try and grab as much time in the present as we can, before it’s too late.
Because Christmas is about the magic that it brings. It’s a time to pause and enjoy one another’s company and be together (and thinking about the less fortunate, of course!). But the point is, if we can keep believing in it, if we can keep it real, we can make it last just that little bit longer for our little family.
“Cheers!” I reply to my wife. “Yes, we made it!”