But I have always felt that the unsung stars were the Innkeeper and his wife. They may not have had the best costumes or the most lines to say, but they seemed to me to embody the true meaning and spirit of Christmas, and one that I try to keep.
For they said ‘ yes’ when everybody else had said no and opened their doors so that two people in need could enter out of the cold.
Christmas. Always a difficult season to navigate, and even more so now, when everybody is so time- pressured and rushed, that there seems to be no time to enjoy what should be a period of peace and happiness.
Battling through the festive shoppers as you struggle into work each day, the season itself seeming to start earlier and earlier every year.
Queues in every department store, as you desperately try to think what to buy your father that is different from last time. My dad is always the trickiest on my list, as he doesn’t really want anything!
And isn’t that the point really? Most of us, who are lucky enough to live here in London, in England, don’t actually NEED anything.
‘What do you want for Christmas this year ?’ I hear people ask each other, as early as October. Before we’ve even celebrated Bonfire Night.
I’ve always been clear what I would like.
Everyone who truly knows me, also knows that I want nothing more than everyone I love the best back in the ‘nest’ at once!
I take very much after my maternal grandmother in this, who virtually did a head count each night, and was only satisfied to return to her knitting and her seat by the fire, once all the family were back safely indoors!
But I haven’t had this joy in quite some time, as my eldest lives in Florida and so I have had to adapt. I find it very hard, especially at this time of year.
We are never certain of anything in life except one thing: nothing stays the same.
I well remember the chaos of the run-up to Christmas when my children were all little. At one point, I had three children under 10, a cat and a rather greedy and demanding black Labrador. Madness!
And during this period, with one of them always ill for the festivities and with no chance to escape the house, I used to think that all I wanted was to go to the shops, buy myself something slinky to wear, and go to what I imagined would be a glamorous ‘ office party’, where I would be the toast of the night and dance until 3.
Of course, now that I can actually do this ( well, maybe not the toast bit! ), all I want is those days of chaos back again, with my babies!
I long for the days of school plays and dress up, where my kids decorated the tree, even though I’ve managed to block out the pandemonium and sheer exhaustion, not to mention the countless trips to the shops to replace Christmas tree chocolates and decorations that the dog had either eaten or destroyed! ( If I’m going to be totally honest here, I’ve had to go back twice this year already, as in a moment of weakness, I’ve eaten a chocolate Santa and a bag of coins that were destined for one of the kids. As I’ve said before, I don’t change! )
We’re never happy, are we?
But I have learned a little along the way. And what I know now is this: that everything in life is transient, happiness is fleeting and it is important to live fully in every moment.
I enjoyed ( nearly ) every stage of my children’s early Christmases, and now I’m aware of how precious each Christmas is that I get to spend with any of my loved ones. I never take anything, or anybody, for granted.
Yes, there are a couple of special people in particular that I would dearly love to have with me this year, but I realise how truly lucky I am to have my parents, my other two children and my friends around me.
So many do not.
On this beautiful planet we all live on, there are so many terrible things happening every day.
An atrocity this week that was horrific beyond words.
There are so many lonely people, and folk sleeping rough.
The homeless and the dispossessed among us seem to increase with every passing year.
We can, and must, do our bit, but we simply cannot help them all individually.
Collectively, however, we can do something.
Look around you, in your own small corner of our world.
Is there somebody who may be on their own or lonely this Christmas? Someone who may be feeling sad, but can’t find the words to say so? An elderly neighbour on their own, or a friend whose children have gone to spend Christmas with their other parent? I’ve been there, it is desperately hard. People do put a brave face on you know. Don’t be fooled, take the time to look a little closer.
It really isn’t about the presents under the tree, or serving the perfect Christmas feast, nice though these things may be. It is about being the Innkeeper and his wife and opening your door. Saying ‘yes’ not ‘ no’, making that extra space at the table, offering a spare bed for the night, opening your arms to the stranger or the person recently bereaved.
My daughter works at a stables ( how apt for the Christmas Story! )
She mentioned that there is a Hungarian gentleman also working there with the horses who speaks no English and who may be on his own Christmas Day.
‘ No he won’t be’, I told her. ‘ there is a place at our table for him, if he would like it. ‘
He may not come, but the important thing was to invite him. This is the true spirit of Christmas for me, not the new iPhone or the designer finery.
Of course, we don’t all celebrate Christmas. There are many other traditions and beautiful celebrations for our wonderful diversity of cultures and nations here on earth.
But I’ve always believed that although we may have different paths to follow, we are all trying to reach the same destination.
It won’t be easy. This season, with all its stresses and strains, can bring out the very worst in people.
There may be clashes between the generations, a moody teenager or a grumpy and difficult relative to deal with.
But with some tolerance, goodwill and a large dose of humour, ( and for me, a glass of something sparkly to hand all Christmas Day!) I do believe a safe course can be steered through it all, and enjoyment and love can preside.
So I hope you will find your moment of happiness in this wonderful season, and importantly, recognise it when it comes.
For I’m on a mission to spread good cheer, and to do my own small bit to say we need to stop this endless greed and avarice, and idea of ‘ the perfect Christmas’ and return to what the Christmas message really is about.
I’m happy to say, my children all share the same view and find simple happiness in the silly family games that we play and the fact that we all sit down together to eat, rather than the gifts they may receive ( though they do! )
And so, in the immortal words of Nat King Cole:
‘I’m offering this simple phrase,
to kids from one to ninety-two,
although it’s been said many times, many ways,
Merry Christmas, to you!’