I love this time of year, probably because my parents made it such a beautiful and magical time for me as a child. I have tried to pass on this incredible feeling of love and wonder to my children and hope I will never lose the sensation myself, no matter how old I get.
          I adore the special food, the decorations and the presents, both giving and receiving! However, my love of Christmas goes deeper than that. As the day approaches I find myself considering the message of Christmas as I see it; a message that is not contained by any one religion or set of beliefs but rather transcends dogma and encompasses every faith. For me it is a day, or period of the year to celebrate unconditional, universal love, tolerance and generosity. Thinking back over the years, I have a series of shining memories to chose from but want to mention two here. Both are from my childhood when the magic of Christmas was undiminished by adult perceptions and practicalities.

            When I was about 14 and just beginning to be interested in music, I really yearned for a record player. I put it on my list for Father Christmas, which even at that age my parents encouraged me to write at the same time as my younger brother wrote his. I knew it was much too expensive though, so promptly put it out of my head. When I was opening my presents that Christmas morning I found an odd plastic box, white with one black side. To begin with I had no idea what I was looking at, then I saw a wire sticking out of the paper and at the end of the wire, when I followed it, was a piece of string that led me upstairs and into my bedroom where my parents had hidden the record player and other speaker beneath my duvet. It was incredible. I had genuinely thought it impossible to receive that present and was overwhelmed by the love behind both the present and the way it had been hidden so carefully.

          Apart from lots of love in the air, the other thing that was never missing from my Christmases were books. Each year I would unwrap one or two and I treasure most of them still, although unfortunately my parents got rid of a load of my childhood books when I left home. Nowadays such a thought would be sacrilege and in my own home my bookshelves groan and creak under the pressure but I cannot bear to part with any. My books are my friends and often get flicked through or reread with renewed pleasure.

           One book that I have sadly lost but which had a big effect on me was “My Sweet Orange Tree” by José Mauro de Vasconcelos, which I was given when I was about twelve. I distinctly remember waking up early and going in to my brother’s room when It was still pitch dark to wake him. Then we both snuggled up in my bed and delved into our stockings from Father Christmas. It was so early that Chris fell asleep again after the excitement and I  started to read the book which Father Christmas had left. I was unable to put it down and when my parents woke up several hours later I had almost finished it. My father was worried by my tears at the bitter-sweet tale but for me the beauty of the writing and the poignancy of the message was joyful as well as sad. Books do this, allow one to open up to new thoughts, discover different worlds and ways of living, have adventures and fall in love. The magic found within their pages is unending.

           That is why I think that if I were asked what I would most like to give or to receive at Christmas, the answer would have to be a good book.