Deck the halls: just get it done on time.
I'M A GREAT one for putting things off.
Everything, really. Forms I have to fill out, bills that need paying, shopping that needs to be done. This blog. It goes live at 7.30 GMT. I've one eye on the clock.
Christmas is a prime example. Obviously, you can't 'put off' Christmas. I know: I've tried. But you'd be astonished at the amount of people who insist on celebrating on December 25th. Like, millions of them. And if you celebrate yourself, as I do, it's very hard to fly in the face of all that tradition. And certainty.
So every year the same thing happens. No sooner have I brushed away the cobwebs after Halloween, (these would be real cobwebs: I'm always amazed at how many there are!) than the Brussels sprouts and chocolate Santas appear in the shops.
For the first month, I ignore them. In fact, I am Grinch-like in my disdain. I tut as the cereal bars and pot noodles are replaced with rolls of festive wrapping paper and greetings cards at the tills. I mutter darkly about the mind-numbing effects of two full months of Christmas songs.
And then the first Christmas card arrives. It's always from my aunt and uncle. My aunt is as organised about the festive season as I am disorganised. Whilst I'm still reminding anyone who'll listen that Christmas is ages away, thanks very much, she has cards written, cakes and puddings made and carefully stored and the Christmas tree up by the start of December. I haven't a hope.
But that first Christmas card is my annual wakeup. I can't pretend any longer: it's time to embrace the madness. I mark out 12 days on the calendar and spring into action.
Day 1: Tidy the house. This mainly involves trying to find boxes for all the DVDs that are left lying around(yes, DVDs, very 2009 I know, but there you go) and storing them where we'll probably never find them again. It also means putting all my summer clothes into a box at the back of my wardrobe (I'm an eternal optimist) and yelling at everyone to tidy their rooms. This last bit never works.
Day 2: Hoover everywhere. Incredibly, the Halloween cobwebs are back and I have to vacuum them off the ceiling AGAIN. I also curse the dark green, wool carpet that runs through all the bedrooms, along the landing and down the stairs, and wonder for the billionth time why we don't have wooden flooring upstairs as well.
Day 3: Make lists and tackle the gift shopping. I find myself waiting outside a well known Irish bookstore ten minutes before it opens. My strategy is ingenious: I ask for help. The staff are lovely and I spend enough on books to almost warrant a small bank loan. Stay more or less on budget (books don't count) and come home feeling efficient and smug.
Day 4: Wrestle the Christmas tree down from the attic. And before you say anything, I know a real tree is gorgeous, but one of us is allergic to the pine needles so it's a non-runner. Our fake tree is massive. It comes in three huge pieces, which have to be slotted together, before its branches are unfolded and fanned out. Visitors who mistake it for a real tree are served the good biscuits.
Day 5: Discover the Christmas lights from last year are in a huge knot. After an hour of wrestling and swearing, I give up and buy new ones. I find all the decorations and unleash my creativity. Much later, I discover the head of one of the wise men from the crib is missing. I wonder if I can find a single wise man. (Anywhere;)
Day 6: Make the Christmas stuffing. I like to get this done in advance, because (a) quite a lot goes into it and (b) I like to make extra for the turkey and ham pie I make for the 27th. It involves much sweating of onions, chopping of chestnuts and dried apricots and ridiculous amounts of fresh herbs. Once cooked and cooled, I wrap it and freeze it. All my kids prefer my mum's stuffing, which is your basic breadcrumbs and dried herbs mix.
Day 7: Realise I have no Christmas cards written and write them all in a mad panic. In a blinding moment of logic, I write and send the foreign ones first. But I've still missed the Christmas deadline. Everyone likes getting Christmas cards in the new year, right?
Day 8: Wake up in a sweat after a nightmare, where it's Christmas Day and I have forgotten half the gifts I need. Realise that despite my lists and grim determination on Day 3, I HAVE FORGOTTEN HALF THE GIFTS I NEED. Go out and buy some more stuff. Am now definitely over budget.
Day 9: Wrap all the Christmas presents. Decide I'll manage with the single roll of Christmas paper left over from last year. Wrap the first few gifts and run out. In desperation, wrap the rest of the gifts in torn out sheets of paper from old magazines, tie them in ribbon and pretend it's The Latest Thing.
Day 10: Bribe the kids into some Christmas baking. Promise to help them clean up afterwards. Regret this promise much later on in the day.
Day 11: Do the food shopping. This takes at least two of us, not because I buy enough to feed an army (I do) but because I'll forget half the stuff I need unless I have one responsible adult offspring with me. The Eldest is a good bet.
Day 12: (Christmas Eve) Cook the ham. There's no room in my oven on Christmas day with the turkey, roast spuds, a dozen different vegetables and the stuffing. So I bake the ham on Christmas Eve and warm up slices in the oven on Christmas Day. Hoover the house (AGAIN!) Clean and set the fire in the sitting room. Go out for some hot chocolate with my family.
Finally, it's December 25th. I'm up at stupid o'clock to start cooking the turkey. The day passes in a blur. By the time I curl up in front of the fire for my annual viewing of It's A Wonderful Life, I'm just relieved I survived. Until next year.
Happy Christmas, everyone.
A lovely warm welcome from Dublin. Huge thanks to all my readers in 2019, I massively appreciate your support.
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Happy reading and see you in 2020.