St Stephen’s Day separates the men from the boys, the neatniks from the chaotic, the hungover from the sober. The neatniks fold over every Christmas bag and wind ribbons around their fingers for re-use. The chaotic just gather the whole lot up and turf it in the fire, checking at the last minute that they haven’t gathered up a battery or two in the mass, because a battery going into an open fire has no upside.
A few years ago, I demonstrated my Good Aunt status by slithering the noisy bit out of every Christmas cracker, in deference to a particularly nervous little nephew, only to scare him witless by inadvertently depositing my Ventolin asthma inhaler in the fire.
The explosion was bad enough, but worse was that the roundy metal bit chased him across the sitting room floor like it was out to get him. The poor little sprout cried so hard and so long, he was still doing after-thought sobs in his sleep when they fastened him into his car seat at the end of the day.
Parents who are neatniks are a serious pain in the ass on Christmas Day, because they always want their children to appreciate the artistry shown by Auntie Mae in the way she wrapped and ribboned their gift, whereas any normal child regards curly ribbons as nothing but a speed bump on the way to the gift itself.
Wrapping is necessarily transient in its impact. No sane adult I know can remember the wrapping in which their favourite present arrived.
Which is not to decry the value of beautiful wrapping, as long as it’s for adult recipients. I promise to do it every year and never do, but this year, let’s put it on record so you can hold me to it.
In 2017, I’m going to learn how to wrap Christmas presents. I’m going to do hospital corners on the square packages. I’m not going to have bits of wrapper torn by sharp gift edges cobbled together with sellotape. The colour of the wrapping and the ribbon is going to match.
And the paper is going to be Christmas paper. That may sound obvious, but a brother-in-law of mine hasn’t got over the bafflement I caused him last year by wrapping his gift in powder blue paper covered in tiny storks carryin g tiny babies in tiny slings with tiny sparkly cursive script saying ‘Dotey baby boy’.
Since the recipient is six foot six and built like a Mack truck, you could see how he struggled to relate to this. My view was that as long as the paper wasn’t covered in coffins, headstones and RIPs, we were grand.
I’d be all for putting away the Christmas cards on St Stephen’s Day, too. The whole lot could do with joining the fuel in the stove.
Except for the handful that are like cold cases in a Garda division. Nobody in the house can identify the signature, but we figure that, because of the intimacy of the message, it would be a crime not to respond and we vaguely figure that if we look at the cursive script long enough, we’ll work out who sent it and be enabled to respond.
The ultimate courtesy, when it comes to Christmas cards, is to print your name below your signature so the recipient can establish which of the many Sineads they know was the one who sent the bloody thing.
The great thing about Christmas this year in our house is that it was unusually clean before the gift detritus manifested itself. This was because it was invited to participate in a Celebrity Home of the Year contest.
If it won, its owners could nominate a charity to which a sum would go. I figure our battered Martello Tower hasn’t won, for reasons I will explain in just a moment, but if it had, Barnardos would have been better off and Fergus Finlay placated for at least a month.
The man in my life was philosophical about our home’s participation. As long as he didn’t have to be present, he was happy out. I convinced myself that sharing our old tower with the nation was a gesture towards cherishing our built heritage, but of course it was really what the late Maeve Binchy used to call “relentless self-promotion”.
The price was a deep clean from which the house may never recover. Everything came off windowsills. Every shelf was polished. I meant to buy posh soap for the bathroom but forgot. When the spring in the hinge of the freezer door snapped, I made an executive decision. I could go with the duct tape to keep it closed or eat the half-thawed lot.
The deal was that the home owner was photographed in their residence and interviewed about it and then had to buzz off so that the judges didn’t encounter them, the programme being based on the experts not knowing the identity of any of the home owners. So I did the interview, handed over the key, made arrangements to retrieve it later and buzzed off.
When I came back, everything was in perfect order and I wandered around the house admiring how well set up it was for Christmas. The only problem, I thought, would be the freezer door, which I had superglued closed on the assumption the judges wouldn’t be opening a freezer to find out what the home owners eat. I’m still, on St Stephen’s Day, working on unsticking it. But still, it looked fine on judgement day.
As I concluded my inspection, I found the reason I figure we won’t have won. I don’t know for sure, because the secrecy around this show qualifies the production crew for honorary FBI membership, but I felt loser status coming on the minute I pulled aside the velvet curtain giving access to the good ground floor bathroom. Wild life. Dead. As big as a small cat.
I stood there, wildly wondering if I should ring the production crew and point out that cats bring their owners gifts and mean no harm, and what else would they bring in, given that we’re right beside the sea?
The problem with that approach is that maybe the gift was donated after they left and what they didn’t know wouldn’t do them any harm. So I stayed schtum, removed the evidence and hoped for the best. Have a look. Wednesday 28, 6.30pm, RTÉ1. Wildlife removed