This is not the Christmas I wished for.

Wishes are rubbish like that. They are ephemeral, flighty, tricksters that hover around the back of your head, flying into view as you sit stuck in traffic or on the train, they’re bit like their cousin, the idea, in that way. Sometimes, wishes stick around and they grow into possibilities and, if you’re lucky, into Actual Things That Happen.

Christmas is a funny festival anyway. I mean I’m an atheist, and this time of year lost any kind of religious meaning for me when I was a child, but I’ve always really enjoyed this time of year. I come from a big family and up until a few years ago we’d been together for Christmas for a long run of time and far into adulthood. It was special and not many families I know had quite the same experience. For me, that’s what Christmas or the winter solstice or Hanukkah or whatever your chosen flavour of winter festival is: a time to get together and remind yourself that even when the world gets to its darkest, the light always comes back.

This year, my sister is back from the other side of the world and the old gang is back together for, as they say, one year only. I even caught myself saying all my family were together for Christmas. Sadly, that’s not the case because someone else should have been here, was meant to be here, and won’t ever be again. I was quite upset that people might think I’d forgotten that. Then I was just sad. Grief is pretty much about having All The Feels, All. The. Damn. Time.

It’s tempting in these all too frequent low moments such as the sense of sadness that follows every time I see a child of about the same age; the punch in the gut of watching friends and family get stuff ready for their kids; the joy hangover that follows the delight of playing games with my nieces and nephews; to allow myself to sink into the kind of depression that makes for a really good episode of Eastenders (read: bleak). Christmas shopping was a very special, very real kind of hell this year.

There was the kind of storm last night that you really expect in autumn or spring: angry wind, lashing rain; a bit like a long winter night, it went on for hours, kept people awake, put a few out of the game forever and reeked havoc across the country. This morning, it was still going as we went out for breakfast and, like me, it was a bit hairy.

Why am I going on about this?

No, it’s not some cheesy riff about how I should be thankful for a Christmas with the family I do have here and that I’m not stuck on the floor of Gatwick or on a train. This would be true but I’m afraid I just lack perspective this year. Sue me. I think I’ve earned some selfish this year. It’s far cornier than that.

To whit: I saw two rainbows today. As we drove around the coast, the storm broke and rising out of the dunes, emerging from the wind driven sand wraiths were two glorious arcs of colour. We both smiled when we saw them. We both had something in our eyes. Rainbows don’t ignore the storm; they remember it and turn it into something new and beautiful. Rainbows are a very special kind of magic.

At this, the darkest time of year, the scars of my darkest year still scabby and tight on my not so young hide, the rainbows remind me of a second, unexpected, less impossible wish flying tantalisingly close. I won’t forget the storm, I won’t ignore the dark, but I will look forward and smile when the light comes back.

I love Christmas.

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