It’s funny how Christmas springs up on you. There you are wiping the dust off the Halloween cobwebs and surveying the damage done by trick or treaters to your sweets press, when you turn around and there’s a blimmin Christmas ad on the tellybox. Worse, there’s decorations up in the shops. Not just up for sale (silly, they’ve been stacked on the shelves since July) but actually up, blinking and crying ‘Spend Spend’ at you as you walk merrily to work in November.
I don’t mind though. Christmas is, for the most part, a magical time of the year. The lead up to Christmas is probably more important than the day itself; shopping trips, Christmas drinks, 12 Pubs of Christmas, office parties, Santa Claus visit, Christmas day outfit, carol singing. Celebrating. Celebrating the fact that we have made it through another year; thankful for the friends and family we still have, throwing all caution to the wind and spending next year’s budget on this year’s alcohol and box sets.
I like hearing about family traditions at Christmas. I envy families who throw large Christmas day gatherings. Our family have a very quiet Christmas; present opening, dinner, telly, turkey sandwiches, and come 7pm you’re wishing there was a nightclub open where you could go meet your friends and show off your Christmas tights. Some friends have lots of family round, with games and drinking and great craic by all standards. Over the years I have longed for something to do on Christmas day And yet, if someone suggested changing our family routine, I would be horrified. We have been having the same Christmas for 30 years. The boredom IS Christmas. And I’m very lucky to have a family to share it with.
The earliest Christmas I remember is around the age of three. I was absolutely terrified of Santa Claus. I went into my parents’ room on Christmas morning and begged and pleaded to be brought down to the sitting room, fully accompanied in case the big man in the red coat was there. Trust us, he’s not, my parents answered, pillows over heads. But he might be! I cried. I got them to check that the room was clear and reviewed the corner behind the door myself before even glancing at what he’d brought. It was a rocking donkey if you must know. Apparently I cried over the horse / donkey mix-up. But I can’t remember that.
A fond memory I have is of my Granny coming to our house for Christmas. She brought a red velvet jewellery box for me and a lavender toiletry set. I still have the talc bottle in the attic; a keepsake after she died. She sat in a hard kitchen chair in the middle of our living room, watching a Christmas Daniel O’Donnell concert. She always wore thick tan tights and slippers. Our parents went out and left us with Daniel. We respectfully bounced off the walls with boredom.
I wonder if Christmas is different for children these days. With our affluence, kids don’t have to wait for toys and gifts. Last year I found a bag of gifts, still brand new and boxed in my fiance’s daughters’ room, unopened from the previous Christmas. We had commented that year how she had received so many gifts she wasn’t even opening them. This was not a reflection on her; she is not a spoilt girl, but rather the times we live in. And toys have become so cheap and available.
Sylvanian Families were my weakness. I collected them for years, each birthday and Christmas adding little bits of furniture to my Sylvanian Village. I dreamt about them and set alarms the nights before I was due the new additions so I could get up early and play with them. I would carefully set them up and bring friends round to watch me, they weren’t really allowed touch them, and when they were all set up, I would tell them they were too important to play with and we would have to go outside to avoid breaking them.
My friend Fiona always got Barbies. She had an amazing collection, with kitchens and cars and a wardrobe to die for. One year a pregnant Barbie appeared. You pressed her belly and a baby popped out and like all celebrities, her tummy returned flat in seconds. We set up mini labour ward in her bedroom and got on with the murky world of childbirth. We didn’t know how it worked, but the baby always arrived safely anyway.
Due to my lack of beautiful Barbie clothes I used to cleverly push Fiona’s Barbie clothes under my bed when she came over. During clean-up I’d scoosh a Barbie nightie or prom dress under my valance sheet and hope she wouldn’t spot the ‘left behind’. Soon she took to raising the valance sheet before she left to retrieve the contraband and muttering about how this always happened.
One of the worst things I ever did as a child was to cut my friend’s sisters Barbie hair off. For whatever reason I decided that Barbie was in need of a new style and I hacked at her hair with a pair of blunt scissors. The result was so bad, that I kept going to try and make it straight and Barbie became, well, Barney. I didn’t get away with that one either.
Chirstmas changed irrevocably when we discovered the Santa Secret. The horror of this truth stays with me to this day. To find out that we had been dutifully lied to by ABSOLUTELY EVERYONE left us feeing stupid and deceived. And so disappointed! On our eighth Christmas rumours had been circulating wildly that there may be some parental involvement in this Santa business. We held court at lunchtime around the Big Tree and brought forward evidence to prove or disprove this fact. Many stories were relayed with evidence for and against the case before us. On our ninth Christmas my best friend Caroline confronted her father. The truth was out. And she dolefully told us in school and destroyed our Christmases forever.
I was lucky. I had siblings. This meant we could continue the pretence and magic for a few years yet. Fiona asked could she borrow them for her own house, to bring a bit of Christmas sparkle, but considering the lack of Barbie lenience, I said no.
Having gone through my own Santa horror at the age of nine, I was not impressed at all to hear my younger brother’s questions two years later when he was about eight. He brought forward the evidence and I firmly dismissed it. I would keep up the pretence for him no matter what; I did not want him to discover the disgusting truth. Over the next few days I presented further false evidence to reiterate the fact that there WAS a Santa Claus. When he asked my mother straight out after a few days of speculation and she confirmed the truth, he said: ‘Don’t tell Nicola, she still believes.’
Probably the best Christmas gift Santa ever brought was a set of hair straighteners when I was 16. These, without doubt, changed my life. Overnight I was transformed from a spotty frizzy haired teenager to a sleek, slim goddess ready to take on the world. Or Cellars, as the bar happened to be called.
The straight hair gave me confidence and I entered a new phase of my life; the nightclub years. Each Christmas thereafter became all about the new clothes and up to date ironing tongs and which New Year’s Party we would be attending.
This Christmas of course is going to be slightly different. A few days after Christ’s birthday, we will be celebrating a walk down an aisle with a bit of a party afterwards. In fact, Christmas is cancelled. No present buying and no going out on Stephen’s night. Or so we’re saying, six weeks out.
Part of me is worried about the change: literally every Christmas I’ve had in my life has been the same. I’m worried that rocking the boat will change it. But maybe that’s not a bad thing. Nothing ever continues forever. And who knows what married life will bring. Maybe we’ll have our own family one day, and we will go on the tear and leave them with Granny in a hard chair in the middle of the sitting room and nothing on the telly, but a Westlife concert on.