Congratulations to Cheryl and Morgayne! They both won a copy of Season’s Meetings by Amy Dunne.
Check it out, y’all! Amy Dunne is here! Woo! She’s kicking off the holiday season with an awesome blog about Christmas. Incidentally, she’s also celebrating the release of her second book, Season’s Meetings.
Because Amy’s got nothing but love, she’s giving away TWO copies of Season’s Meetins, one paperback and one ebook! Drop a comment into the space below and we’ll draw a couple of winners on Friday, 12/5/2014.
What Christmas Means to Me
by Amy Dunne
Christmas has always been a special time for me. I’m very fortunate that my family have celebrated Christmas together with love and laughter all the years I’ve been alive. As a child, I took this for granted, but most children get caught up in the magic of Christmas. It’s only as I’ve grown older that my perspective of Christmas has changed.
Many years ago, my sister and I would reluctantly go to mass on Christmas Eve with the rest of our family. Firstly, we’d all sing carols with the rest of the congregation, as our shadows dances on the white stone walls in the candlelight. We’d then have the mass, which truthfully, we never paid a great deal of attention to. Coughs and sneezes would pass around the tightly packed church, echoing during the quiet parts. It would usually be bitterly cold outside, but because of the unusually high turnout of parishioners, we’d all be very toasty, if not a little too warm. Our family, like all the others, would be squeezed unceremoniously together on the hard wooden benches, but if you were deemed light and young enough, you’d be perched on the knobbly knees of family members. My mum and grandparents refused to be late getting to the church. If you were unfortunate to arrive too late, you’d be left with no option other than to stand with your back pressed up against the stone walls that lined both sides of the church. The children would fall into one of two categories; grumpy because of sleep deprivation or brimming with uncontrollable excitement and only just managing to keep a handle on being well behaved, because you had the fear of slipping up at the last hurdle while Santa was watching. Most of the children went to the local Catholic primary school and so we’d already preformed the Christmas play and knew the nativity by heart. We were all counting down the seconds until we could go home, go to bed, try to sleep, and wake up to see if Santa had visited.
As children, my younger sister and I established our own little tradition. As I was the eldest, I would be the one to venture downstairs first, to see whether Santa had been to visit. We were given strict instructions the night before that we weren’t allowed to wake our parents up until it was light outside, which generally speaking would be around 7.30am. Usually, after 5.30am one of us would wake up. We’d then wake the other and have an excited whispered discussion about whether it was safe to go downstairs. Soon, this excitement would boil over and become too much to bear and I’d sneak as quietly as a stealthy ninja down each carpeted step, avoiding all of the creaks. With bated breath, I’d open the door to the living room. My eyes would grow as big as saucers and my breath would hitch in my throat, as my gaze fell onto the wrapped presents. Obviously, I’d have a quick peek and maybe a customary shake of one of my sister’s presents, before having a root through my own gifts. I’d then head to the foot of the stairs and whisper up to my sister, who at this point was usually bouncing up and down on the top step with her excitement bordering on being overwhelming. She’d rush down and we’d have a look together. We’d then watched the sky, begging with all our little might for it to defy the laws of space and time, so dawn would miraculously speed up. It was excruciating for two children who had such very little patience. By 6.30am we could take no more. We’d sneak upstairs and try to convince the other to wake mum and dad up. I had no intention of being the one to take on the task, being the eldest had graced me with wisdom and I too wise and valued my life too much, plus, my sister was definitely the cutest out of the two of us, so she probably wouldn’t receive such a severe telling off like I would. In truth, we never, not even once, got told off on Christmas morning for waking our parents up at such an ungodly hour, but it took us years to work that out. To my sister’s horror, I’d knock loudly on our parents bedroom door and then bolt down the stairs, leaving her to panic and eventually form the yearly catchphrase, “Mum and dad, it’s time to wake up. It’s Christmas!” They’d both get up with bleary eyes and disheveled pyjamas to make their way downstairs. We’d open our presents; I was always a million times quicker than my sister. We’d then have breakfast, speak to our grandparents on the phone and relay every single gift Santa had given us, play with our toys, wait for our grandparents to arrive, eat a magnificent dinner, have a nap, get ready, and go up to our grandparents house to see the rest of our family, open more gifts, eat a buffet tea, and celebrate. All of the grandchildren would then set about entertaining the whole family with dances, plays, songs, puppets shows, and anything else we could come up with.
Like I’ve already said, I consider my childhood experiences of Christmas to be magical. With the exception of one or more of us having some kind of illness or bug, all of my memories are extremely positive. All these years later, I now know a different side to those Christmases and it makes me appreciate them even more.
My dad would work long shifts of overtime in the lead up to Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Boxing Day, and the New Year. He’d drive his big lorry in horrendous and dangerous weather conditions to grit the roads with salt. His pay would go towards our gifts and the festive food. He was out at work most nights, leaving my mum to take care of us and also find time to secretly buy, store, and wrap all of our presents. She’d also solely brave the festive hell of going out shopping to buy food for Christmas. Dad would normally return from work around 4.00am on Christmas day. He’d grab something quick to eat, before spending the rest of his time helping my mum set up our gifts. They’d head to bed around 5am, only to be woken up at 6.30am by two excited children. Dad would then help us to set up our toys, while mum single handedly prepared and cooked Christmas dinner for six –sometimes eight of us. After dinner, we’d all go and have our customary nap, mostly so Dad could get a few desperately needed measly hours of sleep before starting another night shift. Many years, he’d have to sacrifice joining us for the family party at my grandparent’s house in order to work.
In the early years, my parents didn’t have much money, but my sister and I never needed or wanted for anything. Last Christmas Eve we watched an old home video compilation of our childhood Christmases. It made both of my parents very emotional. They felt guilty that they hadn’t been able to give us more expensive or a greater amount of gifts. But there could be no denying that on those films, my sister and I were thrilled with the gifts we’d received. Brandishing rosy cheeks, snotty noses, and toothless grins, we were beyond happy. Truthfully, we were always grateful for the gifts we received and still are to this day.
One year, my mum was suffering from a terrible cold and as she tucked us both into bed, we heard a loud clang from downstairs. Unbeknownst to us, our dog called Sam, had opened the oven and taken a huge bite out of the cooking turkey. Mum was ill, unable to contact my dad, and totally distraught—although, I’m pleased to say we can laugh about it now. These days, we still all go to my mum and dad’s house on Christmas morning to open our presents together. There are plenty of hands to help my mum prepare her epic Christmas dinner. We still go to my grandparent’s house in the evening to celebrate with the rest of our family. And it’s these little traditions that now make our adult Christmases magical.
I’m in awe of everything our parents did to ensure we had wonderful Christmases. Their love for my sister and I is crystal clear through their hard work, sacrifices, and our cherished childhood memories. They always put us first. It means so much to me and I hope to one day do the same with my own little family.
In my personal experience, as we grow older, our wishes for Christmas change. This year, there’s nothing of monetary value that I need or even want. Just to be able to spend the day with my family, is the most important thing in the whole wide world. To laugh, feel loved, and make wonderful new memories is the most incredible gift of all. The extravagant food and drink, the gifts, the carols, the tree, the decorations, and the pulling of crackers are all nice, but they’re not what makes Christmas so special.
A few years ago, I lost my granddad Joe followed a little while later by the passing of my grandma Bridie. There isn’t a day that goes by, where I don’t feel their loss acutely. Christmas isn’t the same without them. There’s an empty space at the table that will never be filled or forgotten.
My family is Irish. And as with most Irish people, there’s always the love of a party but also the acknowledgement that one day we’ll no longer be here. It sounds more morbid than it actually is. The Irish have an acceptance of life and death. It’s one of the key topics of conversation.
Funerals are one of the times that extended family meet up, as is Christmas, Baptisms, and weddings. The Irish don’t just mourn the passing of a loved one, they go all out to celebrate the life of that person. They will never, ever, be forgotten. It’s a part of my heritage that I love. At Christmas, we remember our loved ones. We exchange stories and memories of those who have passed away, so that they’re still with us. We laugh. Sometimes we cry. It’s beautiful. It also gives perspective.
Christmas can be seen as a time of year that’s filled with gluttony and selfishness. People spend too much money, they eat and drink ridiculous amounts, and behave badly. They only care about themselves. In some cases perhaps this is true, but everyone is entitled to celebrate in their own way. I do disagree when people generalize that this is what Christmas is for everyone.
I know so many people who share their homes, love, prayers, and thoughts, with those people who don’t have the things we are fortunate to have. For me, Christmas is the time when I see the good in people. The love, thoughtfulness, laughter, comfort, and bringing together of people near and far.
If I could give any gifts, I’d give good health, happiness, good fortune, and for my loved ones to have their dreams come true. Alas, those aren’t gifts that I have the power to give. I know some people feel that Christmas is just about buying anything and everything, but I can’t help feel that’s a little cynical. I l personally love to buy gifts. It’s like my secret talent. I have a compartment in my brain that stores information whenever someone mentions something they like. When their birthday or Christmas comes around, I do my best to find that perfectly unique gift. It brings me joy, knowing that I can surprise people and bring happiness. It’s my way of showing how much I love and care. From a very young age, it was the thing I most enjoyed doing. You see, I enjoy making people happy. If there’s something I can do to cheer someone up or make their day nicer, I won’t hesitate to go out of my way to do it. To make someone laugh, smile, feel safe, loved, or cared about, is too important to not try.
I think perhaps my desire to write books and entertain readers is also to bring them happiness. In my not so humble opinion, there is nothing better than a good book and the time to read it. It’s heaven. You can never have too many good books. They bring entertainment, company, emotion, adventure, knowledge, travel, experience, and hours of escapism, all whilst you’re safe and comfortable. You can’t beat it.
My nerves are getting the better of me and self-doubt is eating away as my second novel, Season’s Meetings is about to be released. It’s my first attempt at writing a lighthearted festive contemporary romance. It couldn’t be more different to Secret Lies. And yet, I’m proud of it. It may sound a bit strange, but Season’s Meetings is a bit like a Christmas gift that I want to share with everyone. It’s fun, festive, romantic, and (hopefully) funny. It’s my hope that it will bring not only entertainment, but also laughter and happiness during this season. I’ve tried to show Christmas and a personal journey through the eyes of someone who has no family and who dreads the loneliness that can accompany this time of year.
With all of the lights, drinks, food, gifts, merriness, and festive fun, it’s easy to be swept away with the festive season. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. But it’s important to remember there are those people who struggle at this time of year for various reasons. Some people may find themselves alone through no fault of their own. Some may be grieving the loss of their loved ones. Others suffer with addiction, depression, loneliness, poor health, poverty, and countless other issues. They may need help, or a friendly smile, or even just someone to talk to.
I believe it’s really the season of goodwill. It doesn’t have to cost a great deal to give a gift to someone else, even a stranger. Just checking in on an elderly neighbor, talking to someone who is lonely, donating to an animal shelter, or to a food and toy bank. Or perhaps even just sharing a smile with a stranger. Any of these could potentially brighten up that person’s day. These are the things in life that are priceless.
I wish everyone a safe season, that’s filled with love, laughter, good health, and happiness.
Amy was raised in Derbyshire, England. She attended Keele University and graduated in 2007 with a BSc in Philosophy and Psychology. After graduating she worked for a while with vulnerable young people. She is currently concentrating on her writing. She is married to her beautiful wife, Lou. They share a love of Dolly Parton, have two gorgeous cats, and a very mischievous little dog.