Am Bratach No. 328
by Mark Gilbert
“I wish it could be Christmas every day”, “Jingle bells”, “Driving home for Christmas”, “Last Christmas”: the list goes on and on for the seasonal tunes that seem to start being played around the beginning of September each year. Most of the popular and most-played ones were produced in the 1970s and 1980s and have now become classics. They never seem to age and although there is a collective sigh when they start each year, they get most people in the spirit of Christmas time.
I can remember a number of years ago being in a department store around November, undertaking the gentlemanly task of looking after bags, leaning on a display stand and yawning whilst Susan shopped, when the “clanging chimes of doom” struck up at the beginning of Band Aid’s “Do they know it’s Christmas?”. My attention was drawn to a sales girl who was tidying shelves and she was singing all the words to the tune as if she was actually in the band; she didn’t struggle with any of the many voices of the stars on the record at all. Anyway, I received a signal from Susan that she was ready to move to a different department and I duly followed, showing some sort of interest in the items she was about to purchase.
Quite a while later we came back through the area where I had been guarding the bags earlier. I was very impressed that the sales girl from Band Aid was now Roy Wood from Wizzard and she was wishing “it could be Christmas every day”. Even if you love all these tunes, as I do, can you even imagine having to listen to them go around and around for eight hours a day?
I got to thinking about Christmas traditions when I told Sylvia that I had acquired my 2018 Christmas tree whilst on a dog walk one crisp early December morning. Sylvia asked if I was going to put the same fairy on top of the tree that I had been putting on for over forty years. “Of course I am,” I said. “It is a tradition and I will also be putting the ‘Father Christmas’ face on a stick on the tree that I have had for even longer”.
The fairy is a plastic dolly with an arm missing and a dodgy eye; she sits in a cardboard box for most of the year and only comes out for about five weeks, then sits on top of a prickly tree where she is held in place by an elastic band, but she will do it every year while I am here. If I had children, they would probably carry on doing the same, because families and friends like to carry on these types of traditions.
I decided to sort out my Christmas card list again this time to make it more appropriate to my new life in the Highlands (this was my fourth here). Although it is a big list, I did have some tough decisions on who was being added and who was getting the chop. Unfortunately, as you get older, some of the names come off the list “naturally” and you know about them, but some people have been on the list for donkey’s years and the only knowledge that they are still with us is if we get a card from them. I can’t even remember what some of the people look like, or how they got on the list in the first place.
This must be the same scenario for lots of people who send cards, although it will mainly be the experience of older folk, simply because younger folk don’t really do cards and only have a list of “friends” on Facebook, Snapchat or Twitter. I say this because, having worked for Royal Mail for twenty-five years, we see the same cards come through year on year for people who have moved away years ago, passed away years ago, or for somebody they met on holiday years ago and don’t even know the correct name or address.
We get cards sent to Mr and Mrs Whatever, where one of the names passed away long ago. The sender will probably never know, but will still send the card every year. We also get cards addressed, for example, to Mr and Mrs Mackay, Bettyhill. This is all well and good, but eleven out of the forty houses I deliver to in Bettyhill have a Mackay staying there and I only cover a small part of Bettyhill. From my knowledge of the houses I deliver to I know that historically the number occupied by Mackays would have been far higher.
I enjoy “delivering Christmas” and the closest Tuesday and Wednesday to December 1 always attracts lots of cards to deliver, because card senders with lists old and new decide it is time to continue the tradition and aim to post them on December 1. I always pass comment on how many cards some customers have received, telling them it must be time to put up a second or third string to hold them all. You know what I mean.
As a compassionate observer I feel I must briefly mention another aspect. Amid the excitement of delivering Christmas, there is sometimes sadness too, especially where either loneliness, illness or death are concerned. Some people comment that they are missing a card from a long-term friendship, or there may have been a note inside telling that someone has become ill and gone into care, or passed away between Christmases.
But the hardest one to deal with is when a customer loses a family member in the run up to Christmas. The cards keep coming, but they will be a mixture of cards still addressed to everybody in the family and then there are the sympathy cards arriving too. For these people Christmas will never be the same again. The postie shares this emotion too.
One of the nicest traditions I have found in this area is that people like to gift homemade goodies to each other. Whether it be cakes, shortbread, mince pies, tablet, meringues and various pickles, these items always feel more personal and thoughtful.
One new tradition that I have noted is that Tesco staff now all wear their Christmas jumpers, which is very seasonal and must help to warm them up, but doesn’t help when you need to find someone to ask where something is. I ended up asking a young lady where an item was and found that she was just a customer with a Christmas jumper on!
Another new tradition seems to be that families have Christmas Eve boxes with all sorts of goodies in them: pyjamas, slippers, sweeties, gifts for Santa and Rudolf etc. I’m not sure about this as it seemingly just adds pressure on people to spend more money.
This brings me to the flip side of the new tradition of having to get into debt in order to celebrate Christmas. One of my customers told me she was expecting a number of parcels and we agreed where I would leave them if nobody was at home. I then said that I expected she would have a massive list of things her children wanted for Christmas. She said that she had asked her young daughter what she wanted and she had just asked for a couple of things. When the mother asked if the daughter wanted anything else, she said “No, but perhaps we could get something for other children who don’t get anything”.
Now, that’s the new spirit of Christmas we should be embracing.