'It's a time for giving, time for getting, time for forgiving and for forgetting' in the wise words of Cliff Richards (never did I ever think I would be saying that on my blog). But I really think the joy in Christmas comes in its individuality. Yes we all like mistletoe and wine a little bit extra at this time of year, but there are so many special things that make Christmas a little different every person that celebrates it.
The smell of tinsel and our old, yet still loved Christmas tree making its way down from the loft. That's Christmas for me. I could recognise its smell anywhere, and I'm sure I could do it in years to come. Then comes the tiny little chimes of bells, as my dad gets down his set of mini drummers playing carols, only to go back up into the loft straightaway - we don't want to wear down twenty years of one battery after all.
Then comes the nativity set. The same one that we've had for as long as I can remember. The one that's migrating to my new home with my boyfriend this year. The one that is basically a miracle in that nothing is broken. The one that will be taking pride of place on the mantelpiece in our living room. This is the one thing now that really centres my home and my Christmas around where it all began.
However, Christmas still brings back joyful, faith-filled memories for me. I was raised as a Catholic, and attended a faith school until I was 18. Christmas means countless renditions of the Nativity scene, from when I was a 3 year old angel, right up to watching a girl perform a ballet version of the Christian tale during a school mass. Christmas means the lighting of the advent wreath, and with it a reminder of the coming of Jesus; the most wonderful time of year. Christmas means singing your favourite carols again, and trying to avoid the hymns that are too dreary.
And then we have the big day itself. And the special day before the big day. Christmas eve is filled with wonderful smells. We head to Nan's to make homemade mince pies and sausage rolls, neither of which I like, but it's fun to cook. Then we open the tin of Quality Street and there is nothing that quite smells the same. The sound of crunching, scrunching wrappers as we dot Christmassy bowls of sweets around the house is something I will never not be excited by.
Christmas Eve means bringing the box of buffet treats for the evening of the big day downstairs, and getting to see what my mum has gradually been gathering up over the last few weeks. From Bisto to After Eights, everything we need is all there; a feast for slightly tired eyes. The best and only way to end this day is with a long soak in the bath, fresh PJs and fresh bed sheets, ready for the big man to make his visit.
Christmas Day is a family day. Waking up at 6am ... okay, waking up at 5am, and trying to resist waking everyone else up until six is a tradition I just can't kick. Nor is opening stockings on my mum's bed, despite the fact that she knows exactly what is in them. Then it's gift time; things are shared around. This year it's different: my dad will be visiting on Christmas Eve instead, and we'll have a new addition to the gathering in the form of my boyfriend. Usually we hit the day off with a trip to my Nan's for breakfast. 8 of us crammed around the table in her little flat have a great start to the day with an English breakfast and lots of crackers. More family arrive after we've eaten, more presents are shared and it's time to head home so dinner can be made. Dinner is another family affair, full of laughter, fizzy drinks and all the roast trimmings. Having an Irish background is definitely useful when you want a big gathering of people around your table.
The afternoon is quieter. 3 courses of food in and we're all a lot less talkative, and a lot less inclined to move. It's time to nap, or watch a film: everyone is loitering around the house, content, at ease. The night continues like this. More food, more family, more joy. Some games, some tears and a whole lot of happiness.