Belfast Telegraph

I got best gift of all one night in Ballymena ...

By Jane Graham

Now that the festive season is well and truly over, what strikes me most is the bizarre alteration of its significance as we pass from anticipation to the backwards glance.

Year after year we spend weeks fretting over the detailed organisation the big day demands - making lists of presents, writing up budgets, investing in new outfits, scratching heads over seating plans and turkey oven times. Yet within hours of the new year all these things are forgotten, the stuff of mildly amusing anecdotes at best.

What we're left thinking about is all the stuff we couldn't plan and had no idea would happen, provoked by the little pockets of emotional charges which form during this odd annual 'out of time' bubble. The old memories we evoked and the new ones we made.

The romantic relationships which clarified themselves, for better or for worse, when this work-free period forced them under scrutiny.

The friendships which happily surprised us by retaining their depth despite a rude lack of proper nurturing - and the ones we realised were over. None of which have anything to do with all that frenzied planning we threw ourselves into, and thought so important, in the build-up to the holiday.

Christmas often bring news of separations and engagements, with celebrity examples mirroring the experience of hundreds of normal folk over the country.

Russell Brand and Katy Perry's split provided the A-list headlines this year, closely followed by the demise of Sinead O'Connor's 16-day marriage to what sounded like a rather green young chap (her statement gave me a vision of Kenny from South Park taking Charlie Brown partying for some reason), and the break-up of Wales 'golden couple', Katherine Jenkins and Gethin Jones.

While some of these get togethers were the usual ill-thought out celebrity rush jobs (Christian workaholic Perry was never going to last with the complex, addiction-beating Brand, especially in light of their pessimistic spouse-avoiding timetable), others appeared to be genuine, hopeful attempts at long-term happiness.

What they all had in common was that the unique light Christmas-time sheds on our most deeply buried feelings revealed they had no life left in them. This column took shape when I was scanning the long list of celeb engagements, asking myself with wry amusement - some might say a patronising haughtiness - why people so often react to the giddiness of December with a proposal. Then I remembered, with a bit of a start, that I myself once returned from the festive break with a lighter step and an engagement ring on my finger.

I didn't get a message written in torches on a Mauritius beach like Holly Valance, or delivered on a glacier in a custom-built igloo in Columbia like Heidi Klum a few years back, but the Ballymena moonlight provided one of the best moments of my life nevertheless. Why the Christmas holiday inspired his spontaneous proposal I - nor he - will never understand.

But I know we both felt extra-happy and extra-sure after being thrown together with such intensity at that time, and - somehow suddenly - the way ahead seemed blindingly clear. I usually write off those people who feel threatened or overwhelmed at the advent of Christmas as joyless doom-merchants, but maybe they're right about the enormity of its power to illuminate.

We should be bracing ourselves for the potentially life-changing truths about to be exposed about our lives.

Whether the turkey's truns out a triumphant Nigella or a dried-up Ian Beale won't amount to a hill of beans in comparison.

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