Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 26 July 2014

Gail Walker: So, what is it that makes Christmas magical for you?

For many of you the worst is already over: presents bought, the painful memory of your antics at the office party fading into a semi-humourous anecdote, the fantastic plastic retired for a well-earned rest.

Of course, this year because of the credit crunch and general bleakery, people have been saying with increasing ferocity that Christmas simply isn’t worth it.

After all, comic moaning is the lingua franca of modern life: we can't agree about anything important (Should we be in Afghanistan? Is Simon Cowell inherently evil?) but we can all agree that celeb biographies are tat and Christmas TV is ghastly.

But is that really ‘Christmas's fault? Every year Christmas — through books, films, carols and, well, the Bible — tells us that it's not really about the presents, getting squiffy, the EastEnder seasonal special and giving the retail sector a boost. (Even as I type rumours abound that the Four Horsemen of Apocalypse are saddling up because high street chains are apparently down a couple of percentage points. If we were any sort of a human being we'd do our sacred Chrimbo duty and buy iPod speakers for someone we barely know).

Nope, we know Christmas is not about these things because everything that's good, decent and true tells us so. Just as personal experience tells us that we've got things a**e-about-face — did that Ben Stiller box set last year really enhance our life?

And yet despite the deluge of glittering junk, Christmas will somehow rise to the occasion. Christmas always botches it when playing ‘big’ but when it comes to ‘small’, well, nobody does it better.

Normally — if paradoxically — it will hit when we least expect it. A solitary walk in the park, crunching through leaves so crisp you suspect they’ve been put there specially by the council. The strangeness of our little town centres when you're the only person walking down their thoroughfares just after closing time on Christmas Eve. Not the big meal itself but doing the dishes afterwards and catching by pure chance something remarkably pleasant (and unsung) on Radio 4.

It’s the little pleasures that are most memorable. The big Christmas Day film will merely demonstrate the chronic flatulence of Hollywood (and the odd fact that the only sense of taste people had 18 months ago was in their mouths).

No, it’ll be that afternoon, when it was dark by 3.30pm, and you watched an old Alistair Sim comedy (300 vs The Best Days Of Our Lives? It's not even a question, is it?) with a handful of Quality Street and all was well with the world. (And, yes, that encounter with Sting warbling medieval ditties in Durham Cathedral will just have to wait for another day.)

Perhaps the most warmly Proustian moment of any Christmas is the inevitable but always welcomed Morecambe & Wise repeat. Yes, we know every gag, but it’s not about originality. We’re remembering Eric and Ernie first time round when we were kids. And watching those repeats, we’re remembering all those Christmases past: a strange mental time-lapse photography project where we, our family and friends, grow older in freeze frames.

That experience, also, of course, drives home loss, and we miss loved ones no longer with us. I think of my late dad, and his little Christmas Day routines, like bringing in holly from the garden. Like many of you, I’ll also think of those bereaved in the past 12 months, for whom this first Christmas will be particularly painful, as well as those who have lost loved ones in the Troubles.

Anyway, I’m not going to bore you with images of children's glowing faces as they unwrap their presents, Christmas services and Salvation Army bands. I'll just say, it isn't all a lie.

Everybody's got a little something tucked away in the brim of their memory hat that — to use the horrible cliché — ‘shows the true meaning of Christmas’.

Make sure you smuggle something else in there this year.

Happy Christmas.

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