What does Christmas mean to me?

It means sitting at a long wooden table, with my father at its head, celebrating a Polish Christmas Eve and listening with immense affection to his strong Polish accent, even though he’d lived in England for over fifty years.

It means the Christmas when both my wife and I were so ill with a stomach bug we couldn’t bear to eat a thing – but watched Christmas going on all around us with a thoroughly jaundiced eye.

It means bringing my ten-month-old daughter back from hospital for Christmas Day, between sessions of chemotherapy for kidney cancer. We’d hoped desperately to get out of hospital for the day. It felt like a Christmas miracle!

It means walking through snow, in the dark, on a hillside in Cumbria, with the stars crystalline and delicate in an immense black sky, visiting my mother.

It means my children, dressed in onesies, unwrapping gift after gift beneath a Christmas tree they’d gleefully decorated a week before.

It means driving through darkness and fog, from visiting family, to arrive at last at our own snug home, settling down, drawing the curtains, shutting out the cold.

It means a tiny paraffin-fuelled steam engine – one that actually worked! – which my parents gave me when I was small.

It means Polish borscht soup.

It means complex, beautiful, unpredictable life, shared with so many people – strangers and loved ones and friends.

It means I’ve had many more Christmases than I’ll ever have again.

And, like my parents’ grandfather clock standing sombre and broad-shouldered in the hall, it means life is passing, tick, tick, tick.

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