Belfast Telegraph

Watching her with such great joy, I saw again the child at Christmas

And so it has come to pass, it's that time of year again. It has come fast and will no doubt go just as quick, lost for many in a haze of over-indulgence and, for some, false jollification.

When you get to a certain age - or is it the quickening pace of modern life?- one Christmas tends to roll into the next. Much has changed about this special holiday down the years and, then again, much of its celebration remains steadfast.

I remember when it was a toy drum or football and a doll or skipping rope for my sister, which gave way to skateboards and bikes, then Super Mario and early Nintendo and now it's iOnething or the iOther.

I remember when the only time of the year you had a large tin of Quality Street or good lemonade or a turkey was Christmas time, my Father waiting until the last minute on Christmas Eve hoping to bag a bargain and bringing home this large bird, that had seen better days, only slightly warm but fully dressed, its wrung neck offset by the glare in its beady eyes that suggested our Christmas dinner had been caught off-guard.

I was sent two doors up to Mrs K with this - I could swear it was still breathing - bird, as big as I was then, for her to pluck and remove its innards. Come back in a while, she'd say, and when I returned I was greeted by this naked, headless torso that I knew was now well and truly ready for the oven.

Nowadays, you can have a turkey any time you like - you can even buy wrapped plastic slices of it in your supermarket - and as for good lemonade, well they just don't make it like they used to.

We live in a fast-paced consumerist world where you can have Christmas Day any day you like. Heaven forbid having to endure Wizzard 24/7 three-six-five. And imagine what it would do to the national grid with all those houses lit up like a Santa's grotto every single day of the year.

But these years it definitely seems to start earlier and earlier - my sister, the one who used to get the doll or skipping rope, begins her present-buying in August for God's sake: about the only thing I dislike about her.

I suppose another notable change about the Big Day is that there are now so many fragmented families and 'second' homes that it is a bit of a juggling act, and the cause of rows, as to who will spend the day with whom and where and it was the in-laws' turn last year and all that associated nonsense.

In this consumerist society, we're drinking more than we used to or than is good for us, whether it's making complete eejits of ourselves at the office party or watching Aunt Jane collapse into the Christmas pud because someone over-enthused on her 'just a wee sherry will be fine, thanks'. And is it my imagination or are there less of those joyous carol-singers than there used to be: they seem to have been overtaken by the tree-chuggers - and they certainly don't go knocking from door-to-door any more. And some midnight church services now start at 7pm to avoid the unruly bunch popping into God's house on the way home from the pub.

As for those opting for an artificial, small excuse-of-a-tree over a fully grown spruce, you wonder why they bother at all.

I think the essence of Christmas has essentially remained the same. A time of goodwill to all men, a time to count our blessings and bless the harvest, to take stock, to renew, to regroup, and to look forward.

God knows, Northern Ireland deserves a peaceful Christmas after all those years of, in the true sense of the word, terrific ones. (As for those flag protesters, do they know it's Christmas time at all?)

While I was pondering what to pen for this column, the main focus in the place I lay my head was the wrapping of a special gift for a special little boy and wondering if we were late for post to England.

As I watched her crouched on the floor she set about securing the box in which a very large dog, stuffed I hasten to say, was to make its away across the water to the home of a first grandson. I watched the meticulousness of the packing, done with such great heart and joy, and I saw again the child at Christmas.

And for just a moment I'd swear she clutched a doll, recalling a Christmas past.

That's the best thing - Christmas brings out the loving child in us.

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