The Old Man of Christmas

I can’t remember a bad Christmas from when we were kids.  My dad loves Christmas: an over-abundance of decorations food and gifts; games, TV and friends.  He’s always been a generous man who likes to give to people, especially friends and family, and Christmas for him is the ultimate expression of this.  He’s  a big kid too.  He revels in ripping wrapping paper off to uncover the gift within.  Socks, smellies, books, it doesn’t matter what it is, the unveiling is half the thrill.

As he’s got older his Christmas ‘novelty’ purchases have become more garish, more ridiculous even, asserting their Christmassyness so they can’t be ignored.  He’s never lost his love of the season, and every year the tree and decorations and lights go up at the beginning of December.

He’s not bothered about getting gifts per se, and always tells my sister and I not to bother.  We tend to give comestibles, things we’ve made very often, sometimes things we’ve bought.  Make no mistake he enjoys them – and him alone!  Chocolates and foodie gifts are never for sharing, which is really strange in such a generous man.

A love of Christmas is one of the things he’s passed on to my sister and I.  We celebrate in our own ways and have made our own traditions, pared down, less gregarious, but a festivity nonetheless. I think the joy has been contagious….

Cheers Pops!

Why I‘m Not Mourning the End of Summer

Woodburner smallI work in a sector where the colder days and dark nights are a cause of dread.  If you suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), or depression of any sort, the cold gloomy days ahead can seem interminable, and the fact that we’ve had a good summer this year seems to make it worse, by highlighting the contrast.

I’m the last person who would trivialise peoples’ anxiety about winter, especially those who have mental health issues, but I’m one of those people who are lucky enough not to suffer from SAD, and can see the benefits that the cooler days bring. 

For a start, I love the autumn colour: Glen Affric in the autumn is a delight, particularly if you get one of those cold bright days, which we sometimes do.  Who doesn’t like crunching about in autumn leaves and collecting conkers?

Admittedly I don’t like the cold – not one bit- so living in the northern most part of the British mainland may seem like an odd choice, but as Billy Connelly said, ‘there’s no such thing as bad weather only inappropriate clothing’, so as long as I can wrap up and keep warm I’m happy to engage with the colder weather on my own terms!  I love putting on my winter woollies, which my mum knits, and walking on a deserted beach; I actually really like seeing the first snow fall on the mountains, and watching Ben Wyvis, which I can see from my utility room, turn white at the summit.  I even love crunching the white stuff underfoot and building snowmen (well, snow pigs in my case, but the point is the same).  Also, I am in love with my wood burner.  There I’ve said it!  I will be delighted with the new opportunities this season presents to stoke up the fire.  There’s something magical about being toastie-warm in front of a real fire, whilst it’s blowing a gale outside.

There are many other seasonal benefits to be had – the darker night skies provide much better opportunities for stargazing, and if like me, you’re lucky enough to live in a ‘dark sky’ environment you’ll appreciate the clear night skies at this time of year.  The northern lights (Aurora Borealis) are also only really visible in the autumn and winter months, and although I’ve not yet had the privilege of seeing them, the north is one of the best spots in the UK to do so.

Food is always a pet subject of mine, and at this time of year there are plenty of seasonal delights from blackberries and other hedgerow food, to chestnuts, game and stews.  Gone are the summer salads, in is hearty, wholesome, warming grub in extra big portions to give me energy for keeping warm: steaming piles of fluffy creamed potatoes, soups of every kind, stodgy puddings, and back on board are the lovely shellfish too.

I enjoy getting out and about, but the cold short days are also a good excuse to curl up on the sofa, in front of the fire, with a good book, or a good film, and not feel guilty.  I do miss the exercise I get in the summer from gardening, but I can sit inside smug in the knowledge that all the tending has been done and my sprouts are doing their thing in time for Christmas.

I said the ‘C’ word.  I’m aware it’s not something that sets everyone’s heart alight, but I do love Christmas and all the traditions associated with it:  Candlelit carols, wrapping presents, sending cards, visiting friends and family, and all the food sights and smells that go with this time of year –the Christmas cakes, pickles, hams, cheeses, mulled wine, and all the Christmas spices.  And let’s not forget the start of the citrus season too!

There are lots of things to enjoy as we move towards cooler weather, and of course, there’s always the spring to look forward too!  Would we appreciate it as much, do you think if we didn’t have autumn and winter?





This blog entry was perhaps as inevitable as Christmas itself.  Love it or loathe it, you certainly can’t avoid it!  I confess right here and now to being a Christmas lover.  It was always made into a special celebration at home, and even now, with my parents in their late 70’s and 80’s , they still go to town.  My dad is like a big kid, and his enthusiasm is infectious!  I like a lot of the Christmas traditions, and especially those of a foodie nature.

I am not a proponent of the more commercial aspects of Christmas – we spend billions each year on presents and consumables, much of which ends up in the bin or on the scrap heap- but I am sane enough to acknowledge that the money spending/making machine is unstoppable, especially when some retailers make 30% of their sales at this time of year.  There is no ‘getting back to’ some half-imagined fairytale of ‘how it used to be’.  I do believe there are alternatives however, to the credit card debt and misery that is Christmas for many families.  It is possible to take control and make choices that temper the lunacy and make the season a touch better for everyone.

Working in mental health, I am perhaps more aware than most how stressful and isolating this time of year can be for many people.  A large proportion of people with mental health issues struggle to cope.  People who manage admirably most of the year can become ground down and deluged by the relentless pressure to buy, socialise and generally conform.  If you find engaging socially difficult, then Christmas can be exceptionally hard.  If you don’t have a family, or one you get on with, or a good social network, you can feel more isolated at this time of year, and a lot of people succumb to depression or relapse at a time when there are few services available.

The Samaritans charity expects to receive over 190,000 calls this Christmas, and there are many who are lonely or not coping who are unlikely to pick up the phone.  For the elderly and those struggling with addiction Christmas can be equally difficult, and many people will simply batten down the hatches and ride out the storm until after new year.

With many families buying more food than they need, and then throwing it away, one big way of making a difference would be to invite someone who is on their own around for Christmas dinner.  There is bound to be someone in your community if you look.  If your not accustomed to entertaining ‘strangers’ it can seem a bit daunting, but in my experience it can be rewarding.  As a youngster at home I always remember a proliferation of waifs and strays from friends who had no families, elderly people on their own, and even the local park keeper.  My parents would draw the line at the local ‘vagrant’ community, but I do remember my mum taking parcels and meals to an odd collection of those on their own.  It added another dimension to Christmas, especially as we were a small family and as children we had no grandparents.  Older people can be very interesting to talk to.

If you don’t feel you can invite someone into you home for a few hours to share a meal, then sparing an hour or two to visit someone or take a Christmas lunch around could still be the highlight of someone’s day.  There are also organised lunch events in some communities, run by voluntary organisations, where you can offer to help out.  These events are hard work, but also a lot of fun.  They bring a bit of belonging, as well as a hot meal, to people who would otherwise be on their own. A little bit of thought can bring a lot of happiness.

I love Christmas, I can’t help it!  I like the cold and, where I live, the probability of snow.  I like the short days for a while.  Into this cold dark season Christmas is a pinpoint of light and hope, whatever your beliefs or lack of.  The mid-winter festival that the Christian feast was tacked onto was something for people to look forward to to brighten the dark drear days of winter and point to the lighter brighter days to come.  With a slight adjustment of focus: less concentration on the material aspects of Christmas, and more investment in the ‘soul’ of the season, we might uncover a healthier happier kind of Christmas with less debt, less waste, and a tiny bit more joy for a few more people.


Merry Christmas!