Simplicity can be the hardest thing of all

Maybe it was all Darina Allen’s fault. For about 100 years of cooking Christmas dinners and burning turkeys, we were happy.

But somewhere around the 1980s, Darina came along. In two-channel land, everything was watched on Irish television. There were people who came in late at night to stand for the national anthem at shut down time, and then watch the multicolours of the test card and listen to the whistle of its accompanying sound. Maybe, that was where we got the notion that there was nawthin’ on the telly.

But back to Darina. Families up and down the country had been happy with their lot for decades. The turkey came, the giblets were taken out, the stuffing was put in, and the bird went into the oven. And for days and days, apart from interruptions to go and steal the last chocolate biccie in the USA tin, or drink the last drop of Cidona from the heavy bottles with the cork, all there was to do was eat dry turkey and wait for the New Year.

Back then, Maureen Potter and Billy Smart’s Circus was on the telly on Christmas night and and there’d be an hour-long special of The Riordans which would end on a cliffhanger with Tom Riordan saying “Oh aye” before the credits rolled. It was a simple time and we were probably happier.

But then Darina had to go and ruin it all, by giving us notions after she mentioned muslin. Most of us had never heard of it, but now all of a sudden, unless your bird was covered in muslin, then you just weren’t a fit and proper person at all. You were letting your family down, the parish down. For decades afterwards, your kids would be in therapy saying that you came from a family that hadn’t succumbed to the Great Muslin Craze of the Late 1980s. Kids ‘Away In College” or in ‘Big Jobs Up In Dublin’ were told to go to the market to find muslin, and not to come home without it.

Drapers in small towns who had had rolls of muslin going mouldy out the back for years suddenly found they were sitting on a goldmine. And they raked it in. A yard of muslin could be traded for a calf or a small car or a bag of spuds or a fiver a yard. So precious became the bloody muslin that it would have been cheaper to dress your turkey in Coco Chanel or Yves san Laurent.

In a foretaste of what was to come with the Celtic Tiger, we knew that there’d be no more basting of the bird, because the butter-soaked muslin would do the trick.

I mention all of this in jest as a wandering preamble to a more serious topic — that with less than two weeks to go to Christmas, it is about time we all adopted a more chilled-out approach to the whole thing.

Sometimes we can let this season get the better of us all. We expect too much from it I quote my friend psychologist Niamh Fitzpatrick, who tweeted recently that “Christmas is a wonderful time of the year, but for those who are grieving, it is ok to remind yourself that it is also just a Tuesday and a big chicken.”

This week, I read a message from a friend of mine who said that at the school his child goes to, the children had planted a tree in memory of a little boy who died from cancer during the year. And when you hear that and you look around at what you have, then you ask yourself what are we all getting stressed about.

Our thoughts and energies have to go to those families who are suffering at this time of the year, because at this time of the year, everything is amplified.

We are concerned about giving gifts and pleasing the requirements of those who we want to please, but often the best gift you can give is the gift of time, of allowing yourself the moment to sit down with the family and friends, to put away the mobile phones.

I am cognisant of many families who have broken hearts this year, because of suicide and illness. The problem with Christmas is that you remember table settings and sittings all your life. Even as a mature adult, you can recall who sat where at Christmas dinners of your childhood. And when one chair becomes empty, it is hard to really fill it again. But nature can help heal.

Tomorrow week, Friday Dec 21, is one of my favourite days, because deep in the heart and warmth of Christmas and winter, it is also the turning point of the daylight. Little by little after that day, the days become longer, the nights become shorter and we embark again on a whole new viewpoint on things, dragged along by Mother Nature, taking us by the hand and leading us out of the darkness.

It is winter’s way of showing us that no matter how dark things seem (and they will seem dark for many of us ), there is always someone or something to keep us believing in the possibility that tomorrow may be the best day ever.

If you need help this winter or are feeling you can’t cope, then reach out, tell someone, let yourself be surprised by the depth of the listening ear.

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