I adore the countdown to Christmas. As the first drawer on my advent calendar is opened, life suddenly becomes more magical and exciting. One whole month surrounded by twinkly lights, sparkly tinsel and memory-laden tree decorations. Four weeks of planning and shopping and wrapping and giving. Twenty-four days of indulging on Christmas films, Christmas chocolates, and Christmas cake. With each burning of the advent candle, I become increasingly giddy with excitement. Until this year. The year, it took a while for my Christmas spirit to show up.In my life before Pulmonary Hypertension, there was always an enormous build up to Christmas. As a primary school teacher, the whole final term was devoted to the festival. There’d be class parties, Christmas dinners and carol concerts. There’d be school discos, Christmas fairs and church services. There’d be cards to make, Santa lists to write, and hundreds of stories to read. Songs and lines from the nativity play would be on continuous repeat in my head. For two months, I lived and breathed Christmas… and I loved it. But when I developed PH, these pre-Christmas celebrations disappeared from my life overnight. Although I still deeply miss these school rituals come December each year, I learnt to adapt, to start new traditions, to enjoy different advent activities. Now there are cakes to bake, marzipan garnishes to create, mince pies to bake. Now there are homemade decorations to design and sew, homemade cards and tags to decoupage, and homemade chutneys to finish. Carol services at the local church, waving at Santa atop a trailer, Christmas catch-ups with family and friends. Afternoons devoted to festive films and chocolates and fairy lights. But this year, for the first time ever, I missed out on most of the build up.
I’d been struck down with a horrid chest infection during the early part of Winter. For a whole month, my life revolved around trying to breathe. Strangely my concept of time changed; I could only focus on the moment, think about that day, plan how to cope for the next few hours. Christmas was too far away to bring to mind, and as I felt so ill… too insignificant to think about. I was too unwell to leave the house, too unwell to see the lights, too unwell to go Christmas shopping. And just as I started to recover, snow cut off the village and trapped me inside the house for longer. During the season of parties and get-togethers and love, I felt quite isolated; having barely seen anyone or done anything for a month. On my better days, we went through the motions of preparing (decorating the tree, wrapping the presents), but as I was still poorly, even those tasks didn’t stir me. Thankfully, by the 16th drawer on my advent calendar, I’d made a full recovery and could think of things other than breathing! But despite Christmas being only a mere week away, I felt neutral about it all. Neither excited, nor sad… just neutral. I’d kind of lost my Christmas spirit. But then I had a wonderful visit from my nephews.
I was desperate to see them. Due to clashing calendars, and my illness, two whole months had passed by, since we’d last played together. We’d conversed through Whatsapp videos -Jacob reading me his school book, Luca introducing us to all sixty of his Zomblings, me doing daft voices with Lottie, Phil answering their philosophy questions- but it wasn’t the same as being together in person. The night before, for the first time in two months, I felt really excited about something. Truly jubilant at the thought of seeing them.
It turned out to be an even more fabulous day than I’d hoped for. We played Jenga, and Top Trumps, and coloured pictures. We read train books and car books and Christmas books. I met all 67 Zomblings in person, and all 135 hot wheel cars! They loved messing outside in the snow with Uncle Phil; digging away at the giant pile we’d saved for them. And later enjoyed a ‘midnight’ walk with him, with only glow sticks and Christmas lights to illuminate their way. We ate far too many chocolate and sweets and pringles and seafood sticks and candy canes. We watched ‘The Snowman’ and ‘The Snowdog’ in the dark with the twinkly lights on. But best of all, they loved completing a special treasure hunt I’d made for them. They squealed with excitement as they searched for the rhyming clues dotted around the house and garden, before eventually finding their prize under the tree. It was the busiest day I’d had in a few months. It was the happiest day I’d had in a few months. It was the best day I’d had in a few months.
Although it was just hanging out, and playing, and being together… it was exactly what I needed. They were full of excitement and happiness and anticipation of Christmas, and in turn that joy rubbed off on me. After a really difficult month of illness, after staying in and barely seeing anyone in all that time, after just cold and damp and grey weather… I had lost some of my Christmas spirit. But being around those boys and their smiles and laughs and enthusiasm over the upcoming big day… gave me back some of my fizz and whiz. It restoked the flames of excitement and childish wonder in me. It kind of woke me up, reminded me that Christmas was quickly approaching and I needed to immerse myself in it before it passed me by. It was the kick up the bum I needed to enjoy the world again now my chest was recovered. And it gave me back some of my fight -one of the reasons I’m plodding along and hoping for a transplant is so I can have many more of those fun days with the boys.
Thank you boys for reminding me of the magic of advent, for helping me re-find my Christmas Spirit, for being the spark that ignited my excitement and giddiness.