As a child, particularly a school attending one this time of year meant you were almost insane with build up excitement for Christmas when I was a kid. 30 years ago Christmas did only really start in December. I remember practising and performing for the carol concerts (I was in the school choir all the way through school and the thrill of singing beautiful songs with a group is one of my greatest festive pleasures to this day), the hustle and bustle of late night Chrismas shopping in the days when shopping was only done on the high street and staying open beyond 530pm was a very rare thing reserved only for a few nights prior to Christmas when the high street would play host to the Salvation Army brass band playing carols, street vendors selling roasted chestnuts and toasted marshmallows, kids would run wild with snow spray and silly string and Cliff Richard songs would be playing in all the shops.
As a young adult Christmas was very much about the work Christmas party; what I’d be wearing, who I might dance with, first experiences of being out clubbing on Christmas Eve and seeing Christmas Day in on the dancefloor, planning New Years Eve and deciding just where the party should be at. Then Ady and I got together and began creating Christmas traditions of our own. A takeaway meal every Christmas Eve, bucks fizz on Christmas morning. Pre-children Christmas was actually very hard work – with both of us working in retail management we got to see the very worst of human nature that sadly this time of year can bring out. The squabbling of staff forced to work either Christmas or New Year, to stay late on Christmas Eve marking down stock and putting up signage ready to launch the sale on Boxing Day. Only Christmas Day itself off which was often spend feeling rough due to catching every germ going and being exhausted through crazy working hours, stress and lack of daylight exposure. Christmas shoppers are the most demanding, impatient, stressed and uncheery folk you can imagine, all scurrying around fighting their own germs, ticking things off their to do list, spending money they don’t have on a day they have long since lost the meaning of. Christmas Eve stood behind a till whether in a DIY superstore, high street department store or card and gift retailer is about as lacking in the true meaning of Christmas as anything I can think of.
As parents we began to reclaim some of the magic and start creating more traditions – a night time walk around the neighbourhood to look at people’s lights, attending a carol concert at the local church, a drive to deliver all localish Christmas cards a few days before Christmas calling in to see various friends as we went. Last year although we were living at my parents we managed a fair few of our usual traditions including a Christmas shopping trip for Ady and I to get stuff for the kids.
This year is very different. All shopping has been done online. We debated a mainland trip in December to do some Christmas shopping but decided we’d be better saving money and having a trip in January instead. There will be no last minute dash for bargains or top up gifts, if it’s not ordered and delivered within the next week then it will be too late. Food shopping is mostly seeing what festive delights Jinty gets in the Rum shop (so far it’s been quite a few, we have chestnuts roasting on our fire and satsumas aplenty!).
Today we were winkle picking again. Which is why I have rambled on so much, because scrambing around for wee winkles on your hands and knees while frost sparkles on the seaweed and the sun has still not quite staggered over the cuillins despite it being gone 9am gives you a lot of headspace and scope for reflecting of Christmasses past compared to Christmas present. No TV hype, no knowing what this years top toy might be and while we are not religious and our Christmas celebration has always been more to do with peace, love and time spent with family and friends this year it will be a real return to celebrating the shortest days of the year, the turning of the seasons, brightening our homes with bringing some of nature indoors – our tree, holly, ivy, smells of woodsmoke, cinnamon, oranges and cloves.
Ady and I chatted while we picked – reminding ourselves of how we may not be able to feel our fingers due to the cold but there were many Decembers when we couldn’t feel our feet for standing up all day at work. How lovely it was to look up and see the snowcapped peaks on the mainland, feel the sun warming us when it finally reached up high enough in the sky, hear the gulls and curlews and geese around us when this time of year used to mean you arrived at work in the dark and left work in the dark with no real idea of what the weather had been doing outside all day other than how much defrosting of the car windscreen you needed to do before driving to and from work and home.
I think winkle picking might be a bit like having therapy except I imagine a couch would be more comfortable than a rocky shoreline. But it’s cheaper, and we’re earning money as we go. Another sack picked today!