“It’s Not What I Had in Mind But I Tried”

On Christmas Eve, as usual, I was rushed off my feet, having left everything to the last minute. Except the tree, for a wonder – that went up good and early. Still, I was on the go constantly, washing things, hoovering, checking lists, nipping out for must-haves, feeding pets as part of my small pet-minding business (I have four cat households under my wing this Christmas). The thing with Christmas is that we don’t just have to do these large sweeping things, we have to do all the small niggly things too – it’s the fairy on the tree; the pretty home-made gift labels; the icing on the cake.

I expect we all have different niggly little details that we feel should be a part of Christmas Day. There will be a particular lovely decoration that has gone up in the same place every year, a particular food or sweet that must be on the table, a particular record that must be played (or film that must be watched).

And above all, everything must be perfect. Nothing must burn. Nothing must undercook, otherwise we get the same stupid TV advert every year. It shows a man dressed as a turkey attacking someone sitting quietly on the sofa watching a Christmas film. “Don’t let your turkey ruin your Christmas.” Presumably if people stop undercooking their turkeys, we will not have to watch these ads. The lights must twinkle, the presents must be liked (preferably marvelled at) and the icing certainly shouldn’t slide off the cake.

This is the time of year when, planning ahead, we see ourselves writing flowery messages to our loved ones, hand-crafting our own greetings cards. I know exactly what I’m going to say. I’m going to slip a note inside this parcel or that, saying something like “to keep my favourite XXX warm.” I decide on these cosy details a month or more ahead of Christmas.

Somehow there’s always something more pressing that has to be sorted out first – and when Christmas Eve arrives, it’s midnight and you’re exhausted, and you still have to do things like change your bed linen and stick the rest of the cards on the doors and (aargh) you still have half your parcels to wrap.

So you settle down with some sherry (for energy) and a cat immediately jumps on the table, coming close to upsetting the required drink. The cat wants to curl up where you have to wrap the presents, so you put him out of the room, ignoring the look of hurt affront on his face. Turning to the matter in hand, you find you don’t have any fancy home-crafted gift tags or cards, and your ribbons are all scrounged from the parcels you received last year.

When it comes to the crunch, you can’t remember all those little finishing touches you were set on – the loving notes and flourishing signatures in gilt pen. (What gilt pen?) Above all, you’re so tired that your hands are shaking and your creative imagination has curled up and died.

Instead of changing from one gift paper to another to keep the heap of gifts bright and interesting, you find yourself drawing on the same roll of thin but goes-on-forever giftwrap for all the gifts. You write a gift label that should have been important – “To XXX with lots of ocean-deep, transcend-the-boundaries-of-time love from Diddums, please have the best Christmas yet,” and you find yourself scrawling untidily “To XxX, MeRrY ChRiStMaS fRoM DiDdleoopsUms.” Then you draw a sad little doodle that goes wrong. Well, sometimes the doodles work, but not at 2 a.m. in the morning.

“Well,” you think comfortingly to yourself, “people who love me won’t care – anything I do will be beautiful, because I did it for them.”

Christmas Day comes, and you are receiving gifts… many are done beautifully, much better than your own, but a few have gift labels in wobbly hand-writing. “tO dIDdumS with loVe fROm xXX.”
“Awww”, you think, smiling fondly. “I wasn’t the only one wrapping gifts at two in the morning.”

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