Except when it isn’t.
‘Christmas is a sad time,’ Auntie Josie would say, waving a meat cleaver in a mildly threatening manner, and for an encore describing, in lurid detail, with added sound effects, her latest revolting bowel complaint. Take all the jolliness in the world and get rid of it, that’s how much jolliness there was, maybe the reason there are no jolly Christmas songs about elderly and fanatically Christian aunties.
In Ireland we have an ancient law that the more obnoxious a relative, the more likely they are to gravitate towards your hearth, and my many siblings mysteriously and collectively developed a serious and disfiguring infectious disease just as Auntie Josie’s massive orbit degraded into devastating planetfall.
But even in winter, the cold isn’t always bitter and not every day is cruel, and last Christmas Eve, something wonderful happened.
I was wakened in the early hours; it sounded like… giggling, which increased in volume and pitch until peals of girlish laughter rang in the air like silver bells. I slipped on the pyjamas Santa inexplicably brings me every year, crept downstairs, and peeped into the living room.
Auntie Josie was hopping up and down on the Nintendo Wii, Santa’s present for my daughter Gracie. Encouraged by the on-screen homunculus, she spun and pirouetted like a gazelle; for someone whose most energetic daily activity was sitting by the fire assiduously cultivating her erythema ab igne, this was a spectacular demonstration of physical dexterity.
And the true miracle of Christmas: she looked… happy. Like the Ranks of Tuscany, I could scarce forbear to cheer, especially with the prospect of an entertaining flatline (definitely a case of DNR). What better way to go, I mused, than among family who love you, or can barely tolerate you.
After that not only did her balance, posture, and mobility improve, but her demeanour also moderated; she didn’t actually try to stab me the next day.
At the Farrell family Christmas, that’s what we call a result.
- Dr Farrell is a GP from County Armagh. Follow him on Twitter @drlfarrell