I love Christmas so much that, at around four o’clock on Christmas Day every year, it dawns on me with a sinking heart that it’s nearly over. I will look back on the build-up, grasping at highlights to prove it has been a knockout year, different enough from the others to earn a place in my memory.
A single day at the climax of so much attention. From the moment summer bails out, we’re searching for something bright to look towards. So I planned to trick the feeling away by making the whole of December a proxy Christmas with Yuletide movie nights; saying yes to every party; joining my family “for a bit of tradition” at a church selected purely for its architecture and a sing-song where everyone knows the words; and events where carol singers in Victorian costumes accompany the canapés. This plan helped a bit. Anticipation has a way of overpowering the headline act, be it rolling up your sleeve for an injection or the night before your 10th birthday.
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But do people actually enjoy advent’s long promise? The special feasts of the past where unusual flavours and even more unusual excess were on offer have become grocery shops with such unique challenges that households have tried-and-tested strategies for bringing in food early enough to get a parking place at the shop, but not so early that it all goes off. I can name you half a dozen friends who have alarms set for when the Christmas online-food slots open, one second after midnight.
The moment of giving a gift or a gesture of kindness is a thousand times sweeter than receiving, as true now as in the past. In fact, if you ever want to feel great, do something nice for someone else and the job is done. But scouring around for gift ideas to give adults who have everything they need, ticking it off and moving down the list, before eventually seeing it fall into insignificance in the Christmas Day frenzy, is a vapid version of gift-giving.
So I planned to trick the empty excess away by declaring that gifts were just for children and adults could only buy events for each other. We’re making memories, people, making memories. Despite my sister reminding me that “you’ve ruined Christmas, our Babber, RUINED it,” with every ploy I introduced, this tactic helped a bit, too.
But for all the promise, the spectacle and the ballyhoo, at 4.05pm on 25 December, the question becomes: what about
all the other days?
I understood this recently when I invited people to a glossy work event with plenty of freebies. Some came because they got something out of it. They had lots of glitches in their day that needed to be ironed out, which felt a bit like asking the bride how long it will be before the puddings come out on her wedding day.
Others, who had no interest at all in the day itself, came because they knew I needed their help. These are the people who are available to you at 10am on a Monday for something dreary, who will readily wash up and put all the chairs away, who will walk every step with you when you’ve horribly screwed something up. They’re not there just on the high days and holidays. And so it is that every other day is as compelling as crowing Christmas Day.
Countryfile Ramble for BBC Children in Need 2018/Credit: BBC Images
For Countryfile’s Children in Need Ramble this year, I joined amazing Aliyah, who was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy, a disease of the heart muscle, when she was aged just 12. She doesn’t know how long her heart will keep going and she will eventually need a heart transplant that, she has been told, will last just 20 years. It’s a few Christmas days but many more life-filled other days. Every wonderful other day that greets us all with clean air, pure water in the taps, medical and police staff working while we sleep in case we need them, human and civil rights protected in law, access to nature and so on. Every other day that begins with the one and only door to happiness: gratitude. When we’re facing the end and ask for just one more day, the reply will come: what about all the other days