When it comes to the festive season, my priorities have changed over the decades. As a child, Christmas was all about the Nativity, the school Christmas Carol concert, “A Christmas Carol” itself, getting the new Beano annual, calling round to grandmas in the morning; where my uncles would stand in the kitchen with their beers, whilst the aunts congregated in the living room, for a sherry or a Babycham. It was about still believing in Santa; and more importantly, still believing in the season of goodwill to all.
Skip ahead a few years, and Christmas had become a booze fest’, and nothing more. The holiday, and the week or two leading up to it, was an excuse to down as much alcohol as possible; and a good night out would often end up with a good fight in the pub; followed by a banging head and a black eye or bust lip in the morning.
A decade later, and it was my turn to nibble the carrot; left out for Rudolph, by the kids on Christmas Eve. The holiday was all about making it special for the children. Being emergency foster carers, our Christmases required extra, emergency presents too, because we never knew whether we might suddenly find ourselves with 2, 3, or even more extra kids on Christmas morning; and there was no way those kids wouldn’t have something to open. But it was also about ensuring our own kids got the presents they wanted; whether that be Power Rangers, a full sized drum kit (yeah, try wrapping that!!!), Tellytubbies, a Playstation, whatever. And I began to realise that there was something seriously amiss.
Over the years, I’ve experienced both glorious and nightmarish Christmases. I’ve spent Christmas with loved ones, and alone too; both kinds have had their good and bad points. I’ve often worked over Christmas; behind a bar, and in people’s homes; getting them up and ready on a morning.
I’ve noticed some of my friends have been saying how “it doesn’t feel like Christmas” this year, and I know what they mean.
Except this Christmas feels more like Christmas than many others in my past; despite the fact that I have bought no cards, no presents, no decorations, no tree, no Festive Food, and played not one Christmas song, yet.
I opened this piece, by mentioning the Nativity. The Nativity story is one of the first things we learn about Christmas. We are taught how Mary and Joseph travelled to Bethlehem on a donkey, but could find “no room at the inn”. There’s other stuff in the story; shepherds being visited by angels, wise men following a star, and something about a baby being born. We even sing the story, bit by bit; “Little Donkey”, “While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks By Night”, “We Three Kings”, “Away In A Manger”. It’s all there, in song; apart from that bit near the beginning; the “conflict” if you like. Where will our main protagonists rest for the night? She is heavily pregnant, and all they have is what they carry with them.
Well, if you can get to Armley in Leeds this holiday, there will be room at the inn; thanks to The Real Junk Food Project. Armley Junk-tion cafe will be open 24 hours a day, between the 23rd and the 28th of December. During this period, you are more than welcome to dine with us, get warm with us, put your head down for an hour or two, or even help us out, if you want. This is all on a Pay As You Feel basis; which means you can pay with your time, your knowledge, your skills, or just your company. You can pay with money if you want to; but even then you choose the amount.
This is why, despite it not feeling anything like Christmas this year, it actually feels like one of the most Christmassy Christmases I’ve had in a way; and I have a role in the story this year. This Christmas, I am the innkeeper who finds room for strangers at the inn.