It’s mid-November as I write this, and the pre-Christmas season of planning, parties and panic is in full swing already.
If you’re like me, every autumn you promise yourself this will be the festive season you float serenely through, everything ticked off the list on time. (And yes, I mean even sending sea mail parcels to Australia by September, to save on postage.)
All the cards will be written, gift-shopping done, carol concerts booked, decorations strung, Christmas pudding – homemade, of course – stirred and stored. You’ll even find time to get your hair done and a new outfit chosen for the works Christmas party. The family, full of bonhomie and love, will gather at the right time and no-one will fight, miss a plane or catch flu. Just light the Christmas log fire, pour the mulled cider, and sit back….
Well, maybe it won’t be quite like that. Despite all our efforts, there are some Christmases that turn out to be minor disasters. Like the year the children take it in turns to be off school with viruses all through December, finally recovering as school breaks up….and then Mum wakes up on Christmas Eve with a sore throat and total energy loss. Or the time the in-laws publicly announce their imminent divorce over mince pies and sherry at your Boxing Day open house. Or your brother and his mates gate-crash Midnight Mass, confusing it with last orders at the pub.
I’ve had a few disasters like that. There was the Christmas my toddler decided he didn’t like a single one of the many presents left by Father Christmas, and screamed all through lunch – it turned out he wasn’t ready to learn that it’s the thought that counts. And the later year when there was a power cut on Christmas morning and we had to cut up the twenty-five pound turkey and barbecue the raw bloody chunks in our frosty back garden. Perhaps last year was the worst, when my youngest son spent two full days storm-bound at Ronaldsway airport before giving up the attempt to join us for our first Somerset Christmas.
But just occasionally, it all works out perfectly.
Like Christmas 2010, the year we invited my expatriate eldest son, resident in Paris, with his Brasilian wife and mother-in-law (who was attending a European conference) to come to us for the celebrations.
What could be nicer? We were then living in the Malvern Hills, picture perfect under an immaculate blanket of snow. Log fires were burning, rooms swathed in local fresh greenery and tiny fairy lights, presents all wrapped and lurking with gleeful intent under the tree. The only teeny tiny flaw was that on 23rd December, after more deep snow and in record low temperatures, the visitors were stuck, separately and apparently hopelessly, in various parts of Germany and France. No flights, most UK airports shut, trains out of action….
Peter and I turned to each other, hugged, hoped, and – a miracle occurred. Actually several separate miracles.
On Christmas Eve, Ariana and Eveline changed their respective flights to land in (still open) Birmingham instead of (very shut) Gatwick and Heathrow; Daniel cashed in his air flight from Paris Orly for a Eurostar ticket, and caught the final train from Euston to Birmingham; and somehow (I still don’t know which Christmas angel to thank) I found a kind but clearly insane Birmingham taxi driver who patiently waited four hours in subzero snowdrifts for the intrepid little band of travellers to converge. He drove them safely to Malvern, just in time for dinner on Christmas Eve. Never can he have had more grateful passengers, or a more thumping tip.
He deserved it. He made five Christmases perfect, and my dainty tropical bloom of a daughter in-law fell, headlong and forever, in love with England.
Now we just need to ensure two feet of fresh snow every time Ariana visits for Christmas…..