Yet it was the little incidents that happened in between that have stuck in my head. The first of those was that my bike was stolen from our back garden. Someone had got through the bolted back gate, in the middle of the day and nabbed it. As hubby says, it should have been locked up or put back in the garage, but it wasn’t, so it’s gone.
It was just one person, because the second bike had just been moved aside and left. My concern was that this was a 'Grinch', scouting garages for easy targets to raid, who would then be coming back at night to steal any Christmas presents stashed there. I let the local police know and then after the party, I transferred all our Christmas presents to alternative hiding places indoors. This is really tough in our house because every storage space is full, except for the loft, but as the access is via the kids bedroom it is not an option for pressies.
I had set a very tight budget this year for presents and had stuck to it. There really didn’t seem much point trying to reduce the ‘stuff’ we get all year, then blowing it all at Christmas. But as I brought in the presents and wrapped them I started to feel like a real Scrooge. This minimalist approach was surely going to end in disappointment on Christmas day?
Contrast this to my feelings earlier in the day. There was me, arms full of carrier bags (I knew I should have taken my shopping trolley, for those awkwardly shaped items!) busily dashing to the next shop, when I saw a young man sitting on the ground with a bit of cardboard begging. He wasn’t vocally begging or bothering anyone, in fact most people just dashed past not even seeing him, as if he was just a Christmas spectre. But I saw him and he saw me. He had this guise of a bowed head and not looking directly at you, but I got the impression he was taking in everything and seeing right through me. It was quite surreal, so I stopped, fumbled in my purse and gave him a few quid. I think I spoke to him - something stupid like “Its cold out today”, but he didn’t respond, and then I was gone, off doing my shopping.
He wasn’t gone from my thoughts though. On the scrap of cardboard in front of him he had drawn half a dozen circles. Two of them were covered in coins and on the rest he had written the amounts of the missing coins, 10 pence, 50 pence etc. I suppose they were the coins he was begging for. You can’t even get a cup of tea for 50p, let alone a hot meal or a warm bed. I really wanted to ask “You have got a place to stay right? You’re not sleeping rough for Christmas?” but what would I have done if he answered?
Christmas is a dilemma. In one day I have oscillated from the joy of making children happy, to feeling like a skinflint with a budget, to worry about our ‘frivolous’ presents being stolen, to thoughts about a lonely looking lad sat begging in the cold. Is there any balance or perspective or are we all caught up on this rollercoaster of commercialism, torn between what is right and what is expected? Tell me that I'm not the only one?
I’m not a religious person, but I can see that it is good to sometimes give thanks for our daily bread, the roof over our heads, the friends and family around us and for the time for reflection.