by Phil Shanahan
A story of Christmas day emotions - surprises, sadness, traditional comforts and joy.
Christmas 2010 was a mixture of emotions for me. There was the usual seesaw of anxiety and anticipation, excitement and exhaustion but there was also extreme sadness and extreme joy.
On Christmas Eve I got up at the crack of dawn to get my hair done. When I looked outside to see what the weather was like I was confronted with another cold and frosty day. Lucky for me the hairdresser was just down the road from me so I grabbed my coat and hat and off I went. Five minutes later I was sliding in her front door, frozen stiff but glad to get there without falling. When the hair was done I headed home.
Same story as most Christmases – I then got everyone up and had breakfast. They were all in great form after their "lie in". When we had tidied up I put on the ham for the Christmas dinner as this would take a few hours to cook. By then the whole family started to arrive so we sat down in front of a big fire and had a cup of tea and mince pies. A few hours later, when the ham was cooked and all the vegetables prepared for the following day, we decided to go to town for a walk around and a last look in the shops. We headed back home at five and set up the tables for Christmas dinner. When that was done we were too tired to cook so we decided to get a takeaway. Around 10pm we sent the small ones to bed and chilled out for a few hours as there was still plenty to do. When we were sure the little ones were fast asleep, all tucked up in bed, we headed over to my daughter's house to pick up the presents.
As I was leaving home my daughter's boyfriend asked me to do him a favour. "God" I thought "it's late in the night he is looking for something but I decided to listen to what he had to say. Out of his pocket he produced a small box with an engagement ring inside. He asked me if I could put it inside a Christmas cracker as a surprise for my daughter Polly. I went home and after a lot of manoeuvring I finally got the ring into the cracker. By now it was two o'clock in the morning and all the presents had to be set out. It took ages before we got to bed.
What seemed like a very short time later my youngest son came into the room all excited. "It's Christmas" he shouted "get up". I checked the clock it was six thirty. By now everyone was awake so we decided to get up. It was still cold and frosty outside but the fire was lighting. Straight away the kettle and oven were put on. Alan was so excited he didn't know what to open first. His face just lit up when he saw all the presents. All his older siblings helped him open the presents. They were as excited as he was. He got his wrestler, his cage, his i.pod, his x.box games and then he was left with the big present. With great excitement he opened it and it was the pool table that he wanted with a note attached. The note told him to look inside the big box. He carefully looked inside and found another box covered in gold wrapping paper. He had gotten everything he had asked for so he said to me "what could it be". He opened it with great care and to his amazement! there was another wrestler, the one that was impossible for anyone to get as this toy was a "limited edition". This just made his Christmas as nobody else had managed to get him – not even Santa! If Alan only knew the trouble I had to undergo to get that special edition. The wrestler came all the way from America via the Internet but it was worth it to see Alan's face light up. I feel this is what Christmas is all about.
After breakfast we headed down to Mass. This was very lonely for me as every other year I would go collect my Dad after Mass and bring him up to my place for Christmas dinner. My dad had passed away eight weeks before but I felt comforted and consoled surrounded by friends and neighbours at the church. When we got up home I cleared everyone out of the kitchen so I could get on with the dinner. Everyone started to arrive. My daughter Jackie had got off duty in the Navy and as some of her work mates were left on the base she asked me if they too could come for dinner. With the dinner nearly ready I put on the soup and called all of them in from the sitting room. Now I had to make sure everyone was seated in the right place as one Christmas cracker was very special.
The atmosphere was great. Sixteen sat down for dinner. With the starters finished I got up the dinner. We had turkey and ham and roast beef with brussel sprouts, carrots and parsnips – trying to please everyone's taste. We also had Yorkshire pudding and our very own special stuffing and gravy, everything followed tradition. With everyone's plate full we decided to pull the crackers. My daughter Polly pulled hers with her boyfriend and my heart nearly stopped when the ring that was inside the paper hat went flying. She picked it up and opened it. Her eyes nearly popped out of her head when she saw the engagement ring, with a note attached, asking her to marry him. We all waited with baited breath for her to give him an answer. Finally I had to tell her to say something as he was just sitting there shaking. The tears started to flow along with the champagne when she finally said yes. Now we could all get stuck into our dinner.
The laughter and joy around the table was something I will treasure forever. We toasted the happy couple and raised our glasses to Christmas present and Christmas past and to those we had lost especially my Dad. Phil Shanahan