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On Christmas Eve

Christmas Eve is my favourite day of the year, partly because it’s my birthday and you get to open some gifts early and also because some of our happiest memories are about the anticipation of Christmas. For chuldren, of course, is about presents but it’s the silly/ridiculous gifts that give adults the most joy, particularly when they are for other people. Christmas gold they, like PG Wodehouse’s story Jeeves and the Yuletide Spirit, never lose their power to make you laugh. The time a neighbour wrapped up a packet of red lentils in beautiful red wrapping paper and sent it over to my mother on Christmas Eve, my aunt’s indignation when her cousin gave her a pair of Christmas knickers in a size 22 - “I’ve a good mind to give them back to her and say ‘Olive they’re too big for me’.” Then the sweet friend who came every Christmas Eve with a beautifully wrapped mouse for the cat which she placed carefully and ceremoniously underneath the tree. Every Christmas Eve my mum and dad took me to visit my great aunts, Evelyn and Nora,who lived on the coast. Evelyn was scary, as she looked at me ferociously and asked if I liked school but Norah, her kind face beaming With festive goodwill, clasped my face I’m her hands and showered e with kisses; my parents were showered with beautiful home-baked seed and lemon cakes, Norah had a piano which was always played with achild’s carefree cacophony and the family ghost story was resurrected after dinner. Norah’s daughter Margaret had once spent Christmas with a school friend who lived in a haunted castle in Wicklow, The ghost was reputedly a tortured knight who was imprisoned there, and one night, tucked up in bed, Margaret heard chains rarttling. To this day she swears she heard chains rattling. I had unremarkable brown hair but one Christmas my aunt’s kind eyes detected traces of auburn in it. She left the room and hurried back with a scrapbook. In it was a long thick tress of fiery red-gold hairthat once was hers. She looked from my locks and back to hers without vanity or regret while all her youth and beauty smouldered in that tress of hair that was still a part of her. I understood something that night which aim later learned was about thegPlatonic ideal of eternal beauty. Every Christmas Eve night Norah’s lovely face and hair flicker in and out of the candlelight, eternally a part of Christmas.

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