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Christmas hasn’t always been magical

06 Dec 2023 | Written by By Mary Gorman

The Joy Club member Mary Gorman reflects on Christmases past and present and the festive season’s magical moments…

I thought to myself as I walked through our shopping centre this morning on the first day of November that the build-up to Christmas seems to begin earlier each year. The tone, through the decorations and the Christmas carol music playing, drew me into the image of happy families sitting around the dinner table exchanging gifts and having fun in contrast with the many people who, for different reasons, are struggling with the idea of the jolliness of Christmas.

The big question is how we can balance it out.

On Christmas Day 597, when Augustine baptised 10,000 Saxons in Kent, the emphasis was on the religious aspect. Saint Nicholas, known as Santa Claus, bringing gifts overnight merely added to the mystery.

Growing up in Ireland, we hung our hand-knitted stockings above our bed and each Christmas morning, we would find a new pair of rosary beads, a prayer book and an orange. The orange I only understood many years later represented a gift of gold from Saint Nicholas. No toys; Christmas was a religious occasion. As soon as we found out it was our parents that placed them there, the gifts were no longer left. We, as children, accepted that.

However, by the time I had my children, the season became a magical time, exchanging fun and delightful presents, with no rosaries in sight. Our tradition was going to Midnight Mass and coming home, knowing Santa would have arrived.

Excitement rose as the wrapping paper was torn and flung on the floor, revealing gifts. I made hot chocolate for the children and, after getting them to bed over-excited, enjoyed a celebratory nightcap with my husband.

However, all of that changed on Boxing Day morning 30 years ago when my lovely husband and father to my three teenage children died at the age of 46. Christmas changed forever. The dread of Christmas would begin for me in September, but I would never voice this as I didn’t want it to affect the children

Through this experience, I was drawn to train as a Bereavement Counsellor, which I practised for many years. I found that loss is at the heart of most of our pain, but we often only associate it with death. Christmas can open up these losses, even if they hadn’t happened in that season.

Helping people to get in touch and speak about their struggles, especially in this festive season, led to many being able to embrace the joy of Christmas once again. I would encourage anyone in this season who is struggling, to speak about it to a friend, a family member, or a counsellor. Bringing the pain out of the darkness into the light through sharing can help so much.

Many years later, I was walking home from Midnight Mass with my daughter and three grandchildren. It was a beautiful moonlit night when suddenly my daughter squealed in delight, “Look, everyone, there’s Santa flying through the sky. I bet he has left your presents under the tree!”

My seven-year-old grandson slipped his hand into mine and whispered, “Nana, it is an Easy Jet plane, but don’t tell mummy as she believes it is Santa.”

That was a truly magical moment in my life.

Do you have a magical moment you would like to share with Mary and your fellow members? Leave a comment below…

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