It’s that time of year again – and the older I get, the less I seem to enjoy it, which saddens me a little. When I was a child – and even into my early twenties as a newlywed – I loved everything about Christmas: the shopping, decorating, singing and shameless gluttony that makes it the most special time of the year. This is partly due to my childhood when Christmas was an “all or nothing” affair, with everything sparkly thrown at it in abundance, so I learnt early on that if you hadn’t reached a point of near hysteria from excitement on Christmas Eve, then you weren’t doing it properly.
Then I had children. Many say that Christmas gets better when you are a spectator to their excitement. Not me. I remember my first Christmas after having my oldest daughter. The house was decorated within an inch of its life, I had bought every conceivable plastic pink toy there was for my three-month old, we had the in-laws visiting and a turkey that was bigger than the baby. I was beside myself with joy at the thought of my daughter’s first Christmas and couldn’t wait to get stuck into the present exchange. However, half an hour later, my angelic child was playing with the wrapping paper and had shown no interest in the actual toys; the dog had eaten half of the chocolates under the tree and been sick on the carpet; my in-laws had repeatedly expressed their disapproval at the extravagance of the gifts; and the oven wouldn’t heat up. The final straw came when I noticed my measly little pile of gifts – substantially smaller than other years – and I opened them to find that the most interesting gift was a neon-coloured potato peeler from my mother in-law. I remember standing in the shower, sobbing and repeating to myself, “Christmas is all about the kids… sob sob… Christmas is all about the kids.” Yes, I am well aware that this makes me sound incredibly spoilt and selfish, but the realisation that Christmas now meant that I had to be the grown-up in charge of the food, buying presents, writing cards, writing thank-you cards, and inviting random relatives so that no-one feels left out came as a bit of a shock. That was my mother’s job, not mine!
Nine years later and I have embraced my new role with reluctance. For the last two weeks, I have helped with the Christmas Bazaar at school, and contributed various bits and bobs for nativity costumes and school decorations. I have braved the parking nightmares and teeming shops to finish 90% of the gifts (a risk considering that only one child has written a list for Santa so far – including an iPad, which has been conveniently ignored as Santa is in a recession too – and who knows what the other child will come up with). I have started writing the cards and booked my online grocery delivery for 23 December. I think I have covered all the bases. Oh, and on top of all that, it is my wedding anniversary next week, so I have arranged an evening out, complete with babysitter.
But most importantly, I have endured all of the year-end exams and gradings – three dance presentations; two karate gradings; one nativity play; one orchestra concert; and one carol concert – and made myself available (with a fair amount of blagging out of work) for nearly every single one – and trust me, my daughter piled on the guilt about the one event I did miss. Someone asked me yesterday if I am feeling festive and, thinking about it, this is when I am most in the Christmas spirit: when I am sitting in front of 240 five- and six-year-olds dressed in various costumes – from lopsided angels to dodgy donkeys – belting out “We wish you a merry christmas” with glee while I sit in between two bleary-eyed, hungover dads suffering from their Christmas parties the night before and intoxicating me with their stale alcoholic breath, and my daughter, with her front tooth missing, is waving from the stage. That’s when I realise that Christmas is about the children and how proud we are as parents.
Even the mom who’s toddler farted really loudly during yesterday’s ballet presentation.