Tis the Season To Be Cheerful

In Dumas’ great novel, The Count of Monte Cristo, Edmond Dantes was condemned to life imprisonment in the notorious Chateau d’If, a lonely tower off the French coast, plus an annual flogging. The human mind being what it is he couldn’t sit peacefully enjoying his sea view, instead his anxious thoughts continually anticipated the pain to come.

I don’t know what month he was whipped but he was probably worrying about it for at least three months in advance, in the same way some of us start losing sleep about Christmas Day in mid October.

No one could have loved Christmas more than I did; as a child it was equal in delight to the first sight of the sea appearing over the brow of the hill on our summer holiday. Christmas, our week by the sea and to a lesser extent birthdays were magical. I think now that the intensity of that joy was enhanced because my parents relaxed their strict regime a little. We received presents which we didn’t get at any other time, and made us a present of themselves as they became more friendly.

Everything about Christmas was exciting and interesting. My parents lived for a time in a council estate where they befriended an elderly brother and sister whose tiny flat was filled with antiques. I sensed they were not like other English people, (their family came from Alsace) more particular in their tastes, more cultured. One of their glass cabinets contained Netsuke including one they called ‘The Wrestlers.’ When I got older I realised it was two people copulating on a tatami mat. As a teenager they asked me to take it to the local Art Gallery to see how much it was worth. I carried it around in my school satchel for months before I remembered to do so. It later sold at Sotheby’s for thousands of pounds.

They were invited to Christmas lunch every year. I never thought about what they would have done without our invitation, and always regretted it when they left at 3pm, not staying for our family games. I wasn’t always so happy with the guests. My mother once invited an old lady called Bessie on Boxing Day who I thought she was very odd, and I was right. The day after her visit she became insane and was taken to a local mental Hospital. I was secretly amused when she whacked my mother over the head with a bunch of flowers when she visited her.

As I got older Christmas became entwined with romance. Friends became engaged under the mistletoe. My first serious boyfriend at University bought me an expensive leather handbag, but we went our separate ways and subsequent relationships didn’t last. My mother and I continued with all our particular rituals. She insisting on doing the lunch into her 90s and we kept inviting lone neighbours to the table. Then she died and took Christmas with her.

Without her, my status suddenly shifted from benevolent host to grateful guest. But teenage children at the table didn’t seem to like me, at least they didn’t make conversation and felt I was slipping towards that terrible category; the old spare part. Perhaps they saw me as another Bessie. I now understood about leaving at 3pm.

The first Xmas after her death I spent Christmas abroad on an Art Holiday but I was mainly in company with rich widows in their eighties. The following year I invited another single woman to stay. She had no Christmas rituals to remember and she kept asking why I was putting cloves into Satsumas and what was that crib thingy in the hall? I felt she was pushing any possible magic even

further away. We became as tense as any relatives but without the possibility of expressing irritation.

Since October I’ve been worrying about the lonely tower looming out of the fog again. I now see that my mistake was to try to cling onto the past. I have to try to remake the event in a totally different way; so I’m going to visit the local community centre who provide a lunch for people who are alone, not to be passively fed, to give lifts and serve the food.

It will be the first time in my life that I’ve woken up alone on December 25th but millions have to do it and conduct themselves in an adult way with a smile pasted on, and I also have this constructive plan. I’ll spend the evening with good friends, I have parcels to give and receive and a Boxing Day lunch to cook. It’s just a matter of getting through that huge day with something more than gritted teeth. (An edited version of this blog was published by the Daily Telegraph  last week.)

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5 Comments on Tis the Season To Be Cheerful

  1. Merry Warrior,

    “ .. this I can tell
    That all will be well
    When the King enjoys his own again”

    (Christ the King, that is)

  2. God bless. A nice reminisce, Jane Kelly, except I don’t understand why you speak (at the end) of trying to get through Christmas “with something more than gritted teeth”?
    There a lots of people who suffer sadness and loss and loneliness at this time of year but who still experience joy by giving joy. I’m not a wise man, but this is self-evident.

    You speak of visiting your local community centre to provide a lunch for people who are alone, but “not to be passively fed”. This betrays a tinge of class pride, if I may say so. Why not sit down with those “people who are alone”, break bread with them and ask them about their lives whilst telling them about yours? That will be of more joy to them than to merely receive a ladle of soup from your hands.

    You’re a good writer, by the way.