CHRISTMAS is a bit intense isn’t it? Find the perfect tree. Buy the perfect presents. Cook the perfect dinner. Have the perfect Christmas jumper. Have the perfect family.

This time of year can feel like a monumental effort to even smile if inside we are in pain, perhaps with illness, perhaps missing loved ones who have passed before us. This is especially true for parents who have lost children. The emphasis on Holly Jolly can leave so many of us feeling lost, rather than anything resembling merry.

For those who will be lucky to have anything at all to eat, the endless emphasis on “perfect” dinners with “perfect” ingredients seems so remote when any dinner at all will be a bonus.

Social media holds few refuges at this time of the year. Elf on the feckin' shelf? Thank God that didn’t exist while my kids were growing up! The elves would have found great company with the always forgetful and never-on-time Tooth Fairy, who really needed to get a Personal Assistant. This working mother-of-five might not have survived that particular added pressure, the elves would definitely not have survived.

Given the origins of Christmas are about imperfection, I wonder how exactly this happened. Mary and Joseph were on the run, with no shelter, with no family or friends. I cannot imagine how Mary put in her labour without pain relief, in a dirty animal stable, with an older man without any experience holding her hand. They stayed in the stable for a good while afterwards, so she must not have been too great afterwards, and was it any wonder?  I can only imagine that the innkeeper’s mother must have been telling her to stay exactly where she was and not be getting back up on that donkey; and that the shepherds' sisters heard what was happening and sent down some food and clothes for the baby. Definitely not perfect. Believers and non-believers recognise that it is a story of the ages, about love, hope, courage and humility that resonates in so many different forms.

I write this as someone who absolutely falls into the “More is More” Christmas, recognising that I do indeed fall into commercial Christmas and place myself under a pressure of no-one else’s expectations.

I can now admit I do it as much for my 12-year-old self who loved everything about Christmas but was heartbroken knowing her family was breaking apart and that Christmases to come would ache; who knew no magic could assuage what was to come. Striving for “perfect” took the place of grieving for that sadness. Of course recognising my truth took a lifetime of me buying cinnamon candles.

I of course know that present-day magic will not come from the Nollaig Shona door mat. It just might come when my clann sits together, knowing each other’s good and bad humours and imperfections, laughing at another year of downs and ups, seeing our oul' dog a little greyer, missing those who have gone before. I am very lucky my magical clann still share their time at home.

So I try to remember to reach out and share whatever magic I can muster. Remembering a stranger’s smile or generosity can mean the difference between despair and hope. And surely that is what the humble, imperfect origins of our Christmas can actually mean in this bleak midwinter.

Nollaig shona ó chroí.