The Observer


Whatever happens tomorrow, you will, perhaps with effort, strike a balance between holiday commercials and reality

A frozen land produces writers able to see the human soul in a translucent way. This is the case with the great Russian writers, who can distill a whole life in a single phrase. Tolstoi said "all happy families are alike; but each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." Without denying the truth in this, perhaps all happy families are also unhappy at some time, just as people live several lives in one and the experience of love or loneliness is transformed by the way we use our days. In any case, tomorrow, you will, perhaps with effort, strike a balance between holiday commercials and reality.

Mothers, because it still falls to them, will make large pots of broth, full of floating objects, and will remove the froth as it boils. The hours will be too few for meeting the long list of obligations imposed by the excitement of having loved ones near at hand. Some men, because mostly it falls to them, will go to pick up orders of prepared food, under the sworn oath of not telling the sister-in-law. They will also pick up the grandmothers and fight to get the wheelchair, which is just dead weight, into the car. An adolescent will drag their feet and scowl from haughtiness and take for granted that for Christmas their houses are decorated and warm, they smell good, and that they will be hugged.

Some will be dressed in designer clothes, and others will wear the sweater with the hole and worn-out elbows. Some will have spent days looking for the perfect gift, and others with wrapping gifts in bright starry paper or resort to a last-minute envelope.

Children will sing carols or recite poems, they'll forget the verses, they'll get angry if we laugh, and they'll make a small fortune in kisses and perhaps something else. With a bit of bad luck, the children who are not yours will play the flute or the violin, with encore included. 

In all homes there will be a moment of silence and some tears for an empty chair. Maybe someone will even decide to flee from home this year despite knowing that always, always, there is a table to sit around and that the empty space always goes with you. If it is their first year away from home, they will feel the pain in the pit of their stomach. If it has been years, maybe even still then. You do not know if the sorrow will overwhelm you.

Some will spend their first Christmas with a baby. These are the ones that are most like those in the commercials. They will look at the baby with enchantment, take turns to hold it in their arms, and someone will win the lottery when it falls asleep on their chest and their breaths synchronize harmonically. 

Others will do juggling acts with their ex- and the current spouse to exchange children, presents, and some scowling faces. There will also be some who have to sneak away and make a call to hear the voice of someone who is not where they want to be. Some wonderful mother will celebrate Christmas with her children two days early, just as she celebrates New Year's Eve by ringing a bell with authority and conviction on the 30th when it´s not her day to have the kids.

There are those who will come back from a trip with millions of things to explain and others who said it all many years ago and just turn on the TV. There will also be those who always arrive late and impeccable, and those who will run to the shower when they hear the doorbell. Sitting around the table after dinner, some good news may be shared. The bad news will keep until after the holidays, when the world once again has the right to be ugly and living can be difficult again.

Some will be in a hospital, and family will take turns visiting and someone will try to hide the fact that it is Christmas. Many others will be working and will not fail to wear a Santa's hat.

As Joan Margarit says, "everything is useful for joy", and if you are not convinced, you'd better believe it today. Many will have to survive those who do not get up from the table, those who find the bad in everything, those who know the absolute truth, those who explain to you what you yourself are doing, those who make trouble, and those who strive to push civility and respect to the limit. All of these don't matter today, and because everything is useful for joy, it will be a good day - in a loop - for many. A great day for grandma who has the selective memory of Alzheimer's. For the one who forgets that she has already eaten dessert and takes a second helping of hazelnut ice cream, the one who will celebrate once more, like every week, that you have bought a car, or will remind you every two minutes that the angel in the crèche that you have carefully taken out of the box had always been at their home.

Some will be in prison unfairly. They will try to make the day go quickly without thinking too much of their loved ones at home. Others will be trying to recover from the hunger strike, and will spend time with their cellblock mates, the new family they would never have suspected.

To everyone, Merry Christmas! Remember that time flies and with some luck next year we will have a new opportunity to reinvent life and customize it for each one of us, and perhaps it will be a little bit more just. Everything is useful for joy.