Ian McMillan: I’m ready, this year I’m really, really ready

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Are you ready? Are you really ready for Christmas? I know that people have been asking each other that since the first Christmas trees went up in late October but are you really, really ready?

I’m only asking because I am. Ready, that is. Presents bought and wrapped with all the skill of a gibbon let loose with some paper and Sellotape; cards stuck up all over the house, every so often falling to the carpet spectacularly when the Blu-Tak dries up; sprouts prepared and waiting; Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas never too far from my whistling lips. Yep, I’m ready.

But the odd thing is that I’m ready for today, ready for Christmas Eve, because for me today is the best day of the whole Christmas season. Don’t get me wrong, I like Christmas Day and the opening of the gifts and the jokes about the way I’ve wrapped them and the genuine surprises and the socks and the scarves, but I love Christmas Eve more; it’s the anticipation, the deferred gratification, the idea that something amazing happens as the day changes at midnight with an almost audible click and the distant sound of sleigh bells.

When I was little it wasn’t like that. Christmas Eve was an interminable wait, a feeling of standing at a freezing bus stop hoping for a bus that would never come; my dad would go to work in his office in Sheffield a bit earlier than usual, with the promise he’d be home for dinnertime. As dinnertime approached, I’d stand looking out of the window, straining for a sight of his blue Ford Corsair. He’d be laden with presents from the office, and you could tell what they were by the way they were wrapped: bottles of whisky because they never believed him when he said he was teetotal. He’d dutifully open them on Christmas Day, read the label and then they’d go in the pantry until the spring when the Church Lad’s Brigade were looking for raffle prizes.

Then it would be off to the farm in Great Houghton for the chicken for Christmas dinner. It’s odd, but I have no memory of us having turkey; maybe it was a bit too exotic. That afternoon the waiting, the boredom, the tickling of excitement in the stomach would become almost too much to bear. I’d watch the Crackerjack Christmas Special and the lighting of the fourth Blue Peter Advent candle would help to edge me closer to the great day. Relatives and friends would come with cards and gifts and my mam would put them away ready for the next day’s delight.

Now, as an older and wiser man I love the wait, I love the sense of families being together, then I love the symbolism behind the giving of the gifts.

I lost my dear old dad on Christmas Day 10 years ago and when we went to visit him in the morning you could tell he’d not got long. The wonderful nurses, though, gave him a present, because it’s what you do at Christmas. I opened it for him, because he wasn’t strong enough: deodorant and aftershave. Beautiful: take your last long journey smelling nice, dad.

Merry Christmas to you all. I’m ready. I’m really ready.