It’s been going around. Many in West Cork have been stopped in their tracks. The city has not been spared and if Facebook is anything to go by, neither has the rest of the world. Even my sister in Belgium got it. I’m talking about the seasonal flu. This year’s flu seems to be particularly nasty, as it often combines the misery of the vomiting bug with the regular aches, pains, sniffles and coughing.
I was feeling pretty smug. Though the flu had hit our home twice, I had escaped unscathed. Not that it didn’t try to get me too, but I had beaten it. Ever since I ran my last school run, I have taken a vow to take to the bed at the first sign of a cold and it works. When I was still a sleep-deprived working mother, a bad cold in November could linger all the way to Christmas. Now one or two days in bed, and I’m back to full health. It’s worked a treat until last week. Then again I only took to the bed for a day and then launched myself into an early Thanksgiving celebration. Two days later and I was back in sick bay. Which is why I’m writing this wrapped in blanket, a cup of Lemsip by my side.
The older I get, the more my body wants to live in the sunshine and heat of my birth country, rather than the rain and grey clouds of my adopted home. You’d think that over twenty years in West Cork would have cured me, but it only gets worse every year. I cling to the summer like a heroine in a Victorian novel, who refuses to accept that the love of her life has married someone else. This year, the Autumn was so lovely that is was easy to be in denial. Dire warnings of arctic winter weather did not deflect me. It’s my way of coping. If I pretend that winter is not on its way, I won’t really notice until it’s too late. If I’m lucky, like this year, by the time I fully accept that the summer has gone, it’s time for the holiday season.
It starts with Halloween. Though we do not go crazy with the spider web decorations anymore, the sight of glowing Jack-O-Lanterns is the first major step to acceptance that winter is guaranteed. Carving pumpkins and drinking mulled cider forces me to stop dreading the winter and start enjoying the beauty of the dying season. The landscape gives us one last blast of red and orange before its long sleep. The lovely smell of fallen leaves and wood smoke, the warmth of a second duvet, and the cosy huddle around a blazing fire all cushion the blow of short days and cold hallways.
Because of my American heritage, we also celebrate Thanksgiving. There is something wonderful about a holiday that only involves good food in good company. We don’t adhere to the exact date, but have it when it suits the family instead. Sometime around the fourth Thursday in November (the official date), we get cooking. Thanksgiving is said to have originated when the Pilgrims first arrived in the New World, but it didn’t become an official national holiday until October 3, 1863, when President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation setting aside a national day of thanks, right in the middle of the Civil War. The idea came from a woman called Sarah Josepha Hale, a prominent writer and editor (she also wrote the children’s poem ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb’) who campaigned for a national holiday to heal ‘the nation’s wounds’. For me Thanksgiving is like a pre-cursor to the big event in December. While Halloween helps me accept that all things will one day wither and die (including summer!), Thanksgiving is a time of reflection on all the good things that have happened in the past year and to be truly grateful for them. It works its magic every year. We often run around with reams of complaints running through our heads: from water charges, to women’s rights, from small disappointments to major sorrows. To sit at a table with family and friends, and voice out loud all the things you’re thankful for is like a feel-good spell that truly heals. Thanksgiving gives me the peace and goodwill I need to say goodbye to another year. I’m ready to embrace all the tacky tinsel, holly and ivy of Christmas, despite the sniffles.
May your Christmas be merry, may your heart be filled with goodwill to all men, and may your soul be at peace with the world. Let the festivities begin!