Over the last six years the winter break has been an ordeal. Six years ago my ex-husband was killed in November (in the same week as my grandfather died suddenly) but he wasn't buried until January, so that Christmas and New Year was very weird and horrible, and the echoes resonated through the next few years. Three years ago my Paramour's mother became ill and had to move into residential care. She had always been the fulcrum of festive get-togethers for his family, and they didn't really know how to manage things without her, plus she needed visiting, so for the next couple of years we were whizzing around from house to house, trying to see both parents, both brothers and a grown-up niece while not spending enough time with any of them. They all live in the same big city, but various distances apart, with as much as half an hour's drive between some of them. Last year I escaped the whizzing around because I'd just had a hysterectomy, which also meant I missed most of the fun bits - I was allowed to go to one party for about half an hour, and a few people kindly visited me, but I don't remember any of it being particularly festive.
During this six-year period, I think I'd completely lost contact with the idea that Christmas and New Year can be fun. I was whingeing by email to a dear friend about this, back in early October, and - despite being extremely busy - she and her partner kindly invited my Paramour and I to stay with them over Christmas. They live near my Paramour's family, and she thought that being based with her and her partner might make the whole visiting thing easier for us. That cheered me up no end, although I was still unsure how we were going to manage the family visiting. Then my Paramour's youngest brother's newish girlfriend decided to host a family get-together on Boxing Day. That cheered me up a lot, because it means we can see everyone in one place for a few hours, like we used to, instead of trying to get round all the separate houses and wear ourselves out while shortchanging everyone else. And two of our dearest, oldest friends are coming to stay here on the 28th and 29th, AND we're having a wee party here on New Year's Eve, mainly for local musicians and their families so they can all sit round and play tunes to their hearts' content.
Then, on 7th January, my Paramour and I are off for a long weekend in Belgium and Holland, via Eurostar! His birthday is in January, so it's my Christmas and birthday present to him, with a little help from air miles.
With all these treats to look forward to, I'm beginning to feel slightly festive. I do think the build-up to Christmas is too long; anticipation is one of my favourite feelings, but I can't sustain it for months. Two weeks today, though, we'll be setting off to spend Christmas with our friends. I can definitely sustain anticipation for two weeks. So here we go: with fingers firmly crossed for no crises in the next few weeks, the countdown officially begins!