Chapter One: ‘Don’t worry about tomorrow; who knows what will befall you today’ (Yiddish folk saying)
Christmas is just around the corner and Santa surprised me with an early present. There is nothing like a short, sharp shock to remind us of our absolute mortality and help us rediscover the joy of even the most mundane aspects of our very ordinary yet unique existence. I woke up the other morning and could not get out of bed, physically. Have you been there?
Even the most hesitant attempts at movement sent shafts of agonising pain through my prostrate form. Thus persuaded, I decided to stay put for the time being and reflect on my condition. Had I overindulged, met with some unremembered disaster on the way home the night before? As the cold and merciless light of dawn began to seep into my consciousness, sending convulsive shivers down my spine, it became clear that the answer was no, nothing untoward had occurred, rendering my paralysis very real indeed.
What to do? Getting to my feet, the bathroom and even the coffee machine suddenly became of paramount importance, although all were tasks of Herculean proportions in terms of the challenge presented. A gingerly executed half-turn towards the Promised Land brought tears to my eyes, but I persevered. Teeth clenched, I finally found myself on all fours, staring down, through a salty veil, at a piece of carpet in distinct need of becoming re-acquainted with a vacuum cleaner.
Crawling proved less taxing than anticipated, and the facing wall and table were reached only minutes later (my flat is small). I began to claw myself upright in a ridiculous sequence of spasmodic, jerking movements last employed when stranded on a terrifying climbing wall in Bradford. Having finally achieved a heavily perspiring vertical stance somewhere along the evolutionary ladder, the next hammer blow struck – I had to sneeze.
Undreamt-of torture emanated from the lower regions of my back, dumping me in a foetal shape on the nearby sofa. Don’t ask me how, but eventually I got to the bathroom, only to discover that brushing my teeth, not to mention bending over the sink to wash my face, were nothing but impossible dreams.
I will spare you further details, suffice to say that getting dressed and tying my shoelaces left me feeling like I had conquered Everest more than half an hour later. The next couple of days were filled with the most run-of-the-mill tasks, excruciatingly demanding on their execution, yet sublimely rewarding in their achievement. Finally, I succumbed, with recovery not even hinting at its possible arrival. I called for help and started swallowing tablets. A short time later, such wonderful pleasurable experiences as sitting, walking and sleeping became possible once more. My eyes have been opened and I am truly thankful for these immense blessings that we often take very much for granted.
Chapter Two: ‘I’m Jewish. It’s Christmas. Things could get better’ (from an ad for the organisation Jews for Jesus)
Christmas is in the process of being turned into a dirty word. Even in Portugal, nominally a Catholic country, crucifixes have been ordered to be removed from school classrooms. Britain is taking things further, as political correctness is spiralling out of control (read Dear Editor on p.11).
Commissars caused outrage in a Hampshire borough by banning the term Christmas Lights, renaming its turning on ceremony the Festival of Lights. Councillors explained they were worried about offending non-Christians, something that turned into a farce as it was later revealed that the Festival of Lights is actually the Hindu name for the feast of Dewali, celebrated on November 1, as well as the Jewish Chanukah!
The same civic body closed down the Santa’s Grotto in the town, claiming it posed a fire risk. In Berverly, North Yorkshire, an order was issued banning reindeer from a traditional parade unless spectators were issued with antiseptic wipes. In Looe, Cornwall, the local authority banished candles from a century old torchlight procession, in case they set fire to bystanders’ hair – 500 glow sticks were given out instead.
These are just a few examples of Christmas gone mad. But, what is the festive period really about, shopping, the birth of Jesus and pagan rituals apart?
Surely, it is a time to slow down in our busy, frantic world, get together with family and friends, and share some of the year’s experiences – and no, I’m not talking about the office party kind!
In frost-bitten Northern European countries, this is the hour of lecherous, undersexed men and frustrated females on a power trip. Hours are spent holding up the bar, working up the courage for that moment of physical closeness with a virtual stranger for a Christmas kiss – who hangs up all that mistletoe anyway? In Portugal, we don’t suffer from this phobia, kissing forming part of the daily routine. In a similar way, getting together with loved ones precludes any such forced conviviality.
Christmas can represent a step back to normality, not alcohol-fuelled frenzy. When did you last have a really good conversation? Not the ‘did you see Big Brother last night’ type of banality, but an exchange of views and beliefs that leave you shaken and stirred, if not enlightened. When confronted by strangers, most of us are afraid to drop our defences, restricting ourselves to ritualised formulas devoid of original thought.
Christmas offers a return to values that actually mean something – mind you, most family rows also take place around this time, contentious issues having been carefully brushed under the carpet throughout the year: welcome to Yuletide-land!
Chapter Three: ‘Blessed is he who expects nothing for he shall never be disappointed’ – Alexander Pope (1688-1744)
‘There are two tragedies in life. One is not to get your heart’s desire. The other is to get it’ – George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950)
The approach of a new year and all that is connected with it can also be a time of introspective thought. Here, in Portugal, we enjoy an almost unique and privileged vantage point from which to put our lives into perspective.
The death and destruction in Iraq is far removed, suicide bombers are targeting London not Lisbon or Faro, France has kept its social unrest to itself, a record number of hurricanes have stayed on the other side of the Atlantic, and one of the most devastating earthquakes of recent times wreaked havoc in South East Asia, not here. Our little corner of the world has remained unscathed.
And yet, a disproportionate number of us are suffering from something called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) during the winter months, a condition similar to depression. In Britain, prohibitively expensive light boxes, emitting a blue daylight spectrum, have registered an 85 per cent success rate in its treatment a few days apart.
The Algarve, in particular, inundates us with this spirit boosting remedy, brilliant blue skies and glorious sunshine being the norm during December, January and February, once the seasonal Atlantic high has settled over the Iberian Peninsular.
I would like to remind you of your very own light box. One of my favourite greeting cards urges the recipient to dance as though no one is watching you, love as though you have never been hurt, sing as though no one can hear you, live as though heaven is on earth. This is my seasonal message.
Don’t look back in anger, look forward with anticipation, perhaps thriving on fond memories. Consider what you do have, forget that which you do not. Stop just for a moment and reflect upon the positive aspects of your life. Enjoy each peaceful, golden sunset as you gaze out upon the tranquil ocean that is our constant companion in this, the paradise of our making. Merry Christmas and a Very Happy New Year!
Remember: Zero tolerance only applies on the roads and a willing friend is nearer than you might imagine.