out at Christmas.
Less so when you’re young. Perhaps there might be a ghost of a well-loved cat or a lost teddy bear. Not much more, if you’re a lucky child. As you get older, though, your ghosts tend to accumulate. I don’t mean the ‘hide around corners and shout ‘boo’’ type of ghosts. It’s mostly just the benevolent spirits evoked by memories of those who have gone on ahead of you. They don’t rattle chains or huff cold breath on your neck. They just sit in a corner with an eggnog and smile at you though the reflected fairy lights of the tree.
I try to hold on to Christmas for a while. After having such an interminable build-up,
it seems a shame to let it go in one day. My Mum used to do that. At about
three o’clock on Christmas Day, she would let out a little sigh and say, “well
that’s it for another year.’ It was almost as if Christmas hadn’t been there at
all. A magic trick with a massive introduction and a lengthy round of applause at
the end but with no actual trick in between.
So, yes, I
try to hold on to it.
But it’s six
days out now and even a stalwart like me has to admit that the spirit has
largely flown for another year. The songs have dropped from the radio playlists like
a stone and the television has become much more about the year that was, rather than
the insular forced goodwill of the season. Christmas may have gone but it has
served its purpose. There is now a slight lengthening of the light available at
the end of every day. An equinox has been successfully passed. A storm ridden
out, beneath an eiderdown made up of spicy meats and sugary delights and, of
The magic of Christmas is family, As you get
older, this magic of Christmas can often be at its strongest when everyone else is asleep.
in the dead of night. It is 3.15am. You listen. Somewhere, out on the street, a
bird is caroling incongruously to a streetlight. But, other than that, the
house is silent. But there are five lives under this same roof, breathing quietly.
Ensconced under an extra blanket for weight and a jacketed hot water bottle for an excess of heat. A dad, a mum, two sons and a stray cat in the hall, all
dreaming their way towards morning. Magical.
But now that
magic is slipping away again, as it must. The drizzle outside is no longer imbued
with romance and possibility. It is, once again, only drizzle.
of the brain where work matters reside start to stretch and groan and click their joints.
The things on the desk that would be fine in the New Year will not now be fine.
Not by themselves, at least. They will need attention and care and sorting-out.
The gears start to grind again. The stomach starts to turn over as the harder
things make themselves known once more. A new year is about to begin. We’re
going to do it all again. Same stuff with a different number.
is slipping out the door and, as it leaves, many of the ghosts will slip away
too. But one will remain. The ghost that haunts you most throughout the season
is here to stay now. It has moved in and will not be easily removed. This ghost
We are not
just getting older. We are turning into ghosts. Sail past sixty and you can
feel it if you hold your finger up in the wind for long enough. We are fading,
becoming less. Our powers are fewer, our challenges ever greater. We are already
part ghost. Spending time in the ether world where an ever-increasing list of our
friends and family members now reside. We have a finite number of Christmases left.
This is, of course, true of all of us. But some are more finite than others.
One year is
going out. Another one is coming in. All that really matters is that we do something
worthwhile with this coming year. Can we love the people we need to love? Can
we stand up for what is right, knowing we may end up being stoned for it? Can
we create something good? Can we unearth a little joy?
Can we even
make it through another year and, if not, can we be remembered for something
other than the indentation we may leave on the sofa?
I believe we
can. On all counts. And it’s nearly time to get on with it.