Oh I very much like Christmas indeed but in a lower key way than I used to. Which is only right. There’s nothing worse than a 38-year-old jumping up at 4am to run downstairs screaming ‘presents! PRESENTS!’ before consuming her own body weight in eggnog. I may be doing that inside, but one does try to maintain some semblance of dignity on the surface (difficult to do with flashing robins for earrings). Besides I’d only fall down the stairs and there is nothing less Christmassy than a neck brace, no matter how much holly you stick in it.
These days it’s more about the long-awaited opportunity to curl up during the long dark nights, warm under a blanket, glass of red to hand and a box of Quality Street slowly turning my bloody sugar to syrup, reading new books (chosen from the pre-selected list I’ve prepared for those buying my books – my family get a list. They know not to deviate from the list after the year my forced ‘Maeve Binchy, why how simply lovely’ turned Frosty the Snowman to stone) and wriggling my toes in new socks.
There are gentle days spent catching up with family, and genteelly riotous nights celebrating with friends. Less likely to hammer the Jaegerbombs and then dance till dawn (although I do really miss dancing till dawn) than we used to be, it’s still surprising how much wine we can pack away. And cheese. And chocolate peanut butter cups. By the time we realise bed is needed (and a large glass of water), the entire world has been righted – it’s always a small sad surprise to find, the next morning, that world leaders have not acted on our suggestions to put fairy lights on all their ceremonial robes because that would bring about world peace.
Boxing Day is mine-all-mine: a day of pure and unadulterated selfishness where I do nothing more for other living beings than walk the dog. As soon as I can, it’s back to the warmth of my house, the smell of M&S goodies slowly baking filling the kitchen, and the unparalleled joy that is Toby Stephens in Jane Eyre lighting up the telly light in the corner with some overblown Victorian masculinity. And because it’s mine all mine (the Teen is with her Dad), nobody fights me for the last profiterole. Which I’d win anyway.
Yesterday our sort-of-tree went up. Really it’s a collection of twisted willow branches that bend and sway alarmingly when anything heavier than a feather is attached to them. Yes, they have travelled from the old house to the new with us (My Dad: why am I packing dead sticks into the van? Me: for entirely valid and not at all deranged reasons, can you fit the broken watering can in too?)
The sort-of-tree came about two Christmas’s ago when I realised that there was no longer a car big enough to carry a real tree home in, no longer another pair of arms to pick it up and no longer a second income to buy the bloody thing. Plus, I wasn’t long single and it occurred to me that new traditions were called for in the aftermath of my throwing all the old ones out. So I swung off some branches of the twisted willow (the garden tools went the way of the old traditions) till they gave in and they’ve served as our sort-of-tree ever since.
As a result, all the heavy baubles are now displayed in a wooden bowl (actually a 19th Century cheese press – yes, I know, get me) on the fireplace for fear that putting them on the tree would recreate the Great Toppling of 2012. All the usual (light) decorations are up: everything glittery or shiny, the tiny wooden snowmen, the tin one-legged Father Christmas, the paper stars, the light-as-breath ribbon. Most importantly the slightly-creepy, very-battered dancing polar bear that was my Nan’s when she was a girl, has taken his usual tinsel nesting place.
Small cat stands underneath, occasionally batting at something irresistibly turning in a slight draught. The Radio Times has been dog-eared with choices (Mapp and Lucia? Oh happy happy seasonal viewing!) Presents are slowly piling up, awaiting the patchy, crumpled, over-sellotaped application of wrapping paper. Cards have been written and even posted on time.
And in other news, my wrist appears to be almost healed. A cautious return to crocheting has finally begun.