15 December 2017

A Flying Visit

raLike many other homes, mine is pretty busy over the Christmas period. In the run up to the ‘big day’ there are what seems like a million late night shopping trips; miles of wrapping paper to conceal a ton of presents; dozens of tree-lighting, carol singing, nativity play performances; and hours of queues and grumpy people! The backdrop to all of this is the usual run of the mill activity that combines to constitute ‘life’ in any other month: church, work, school, homework, music, hockey, rugby, GB and singing lessons. Throw in a couple of parties and Christmas dinners and the result is total and unadulterated exhaustion by about December 20th. In spite of all this, I just love it!

The buzz in December is brilliant – there’s something to look forward to, to enjoy. I love getting the kids together to officially erect and decorate the Christmas trees. I have one in just about every room in the house and it is complete pandemonium – boxes and decorations everywhere, but the official ‘switching on’ of the lights for the first time is magical. I even enjoy the strategic re-organisation of all the decorations when the kids have gone to bed, necessary because everything is hanging on the bottom four branches of each tree. The fairy on the main tree was designed and created by Lauren while in P1 and although she (the fairy) now looks a bit battered and woebegone, she is the official Queen of the tree! Watching the volume of presents under the tree grow on a daily basis is such fun, and I’m still a big enough kid to shake and feel anything that might be addressed to me!

There are certain traditions that go on each year in our home. Shloer is bought in copious amounts when it’s on special offer and stored in the garage until the Christmas week; Mrs Ravey makes me a huge sweetie jar full of meringues and everyone fights over them; my husband goes shopping with my sister, or more recently my daughters, for my Christmas presents and my ‘wish list’ drives each of them nuts because it’s the same every year: new shoes, a book, perfume, a cd, some nice jewellery etc; the labels always fall off the wrapped presents and I don’t know who owns what; we always get together to watch one of those really dopey Christmas films – Santa Claus, Santa Claus II, Miracle on 42nd Street or something else with a really daft storyline and a soppy ending; we go into town on the afternoon of Christmas Eve just to enjoy the atmosphere and a last mince pie (I don’t really like mince pies but they seem to be the only thing available in coffee shops at Christmas!); and of course, I find a stash of things in January that I’d bought as presents in October when I was trying to be organised but that I’d hidden!

A number of years ago however, my kids seemed a little flat on Christmas Eve and weren’t bouncing off the walls as they normally would have been at that time! I was alerted to a problem when I heard them muttering to each other in the play room on Christmas Eve morning. “It’s just not fair!” Bethany said. “I know, poor Uncle Markie,” said Lauren. “Why do people have to work at Christmas?” Josh enquired.

I went in and asked what the problem was and heard a complete tale of woe about how Uncle Markie had to work on Christmas Eve – all night! It just wasn’t fair! My brother Mark, Uncle Markie to anyone under ten, is a firefighter and unfortunately was working the night shift on Christmas Eve! You have to understand that in our house Uncle Mark has always been a bit of a legend. He’s essentially part of the furniture and the kids adore him, even though he winds them up better than anybody else I know! He frequently helps me out and in the dim dark past before Josh started school they frequented many a coffee shop in Lisburn on his days off! (I began to worry when Josh actually started to show a preference for particular establishments when we went shopping – a three year old having a favourite coffee shop!!) The kids know that he treats his car better than many men do their wives, but appreciate the fact that they were allowed to eat an ice-cream in it – once!

Anyway, the realisation that he would miss out on Christmas Eve was causing great stress and anxiety so I spoke to Uncle Mark and we hatched a plan!

At around about 8 o’clock on Christmas Eve I got everyone together and told them to put their coats on. We got into the car and so began a mystery journey. The journey ended at the huge gates of a complex in Belfast. We tooted the horn and who should appear to open the gates but Uncle Markie! The kids were stunned. Uncle Markie was working but we would bring Christmas Eve to him! The kids were ushered in and were even allowed to climb into one of the shiny red fire engines and see where their hero sat when there was a fire call. They got to see his fire kit and their little eyes were wide in their heads with glee! Going up to the kitchen area they were delighted to offer Uncle Mark some lemonade and mince pies which seemed to go down a treat with all of the other fire-fighters as well! They chatted and really enjoyed just being there. Suddenly there was an announcement over the intercom – an update on Santa’s progress. He was passing through France, heading towards England and would be crossing the Irish Sea in a matter of hours! The kids could hardly contain their excitement! It was time to leave – as much as we loved Uncle Markie we didn’t want to miss the arrival of the plump jolly little man called Santa!!

We wished Uncle Mark and the other firefighters a Happy Christmas and left with everyone on board a little happier that he had not missed out on some of the Christmas Eve fun!

I explained on the way home how it was important to think of all the other people who were not with their loved ones at Christmas: those who were working, living abroad or were missionaries in a foreign country where people didn’t even believe that Jesus had been born in a humble Bethlehem stable so that He could live and die to bring them Salvation. I told them we needed to remember all those who were going to be having a difficult Christmas – who would be missing friends or relatives, maybe for the first time and that we needed to pray that God would be with them also.

As I spoke to my children I realised that as adults we must do the same. In the hustle, bustle and chaos we have a responsibility to take our eyes off the glitter and mayhem and focus on the real reason for the season. Heaven and earth were never closer than on the night that Christ was born. Hope came to earth – a hope that can get us through a manic season, our day to day lives and point to eternity. The season will pass, the decorations will fade but the hope that was born shines eternal and will one day lead us home!

WORDS Ruth Ravey