As a child
Overnight a Christmas ‘stocking’, actually a black sock, would appear on the ends of our beds. I wasn’t a ‘tip-it-all-out’ kind of child; I liked the endless little surprises as I plunged my hand inside to draw out whatever came next. Some of the gifts were wrapped, some not. New crayons, a wooden animal, some other tiny toy, sweets, chocolate money, bath cubes (remember those?) … often chosen for their minuscule proportions rather than practicality or need. In the toe of the sock was a tangerine and a handful of nuts in their shell. Once dressed, we ran downstairs where my father would be lighting the fire in the kept-for-best front room. For two days both living rooms were heated – a treat reserved only for the most special of occasions.
Paper lanterns hung from the ceilings and there was always a real tree. Some of its decorations were Japanese, originating from my mother’s army days in Kure. Under the tree would be a pile of wrapped gifts and Dad would give them out one at a time. My mother would have wrapped up new vests, socks and other essentials that she’d have bought anyway, but they added to the excitement of the gift pile and prolonged the fun of opening them. There was always a pound note from my grandfather in Ireland. Selection boxes and annuals (Bunty, Judy, Diana and June & Schoolfriend) were my core favourites, and then one year (I’d have been perhaps 8 years old), the longed-for most memorable present – Tressy, the 12″ teenage doll whose hair grew. It had to be wound back in using a small key inserted in the small of her back. That year my other presents included several outfits for Tressy, best of all, an air hostess uniform. The following year I received Toots, Tressy’s little (9″) sister.
At lunch we always had crackers to pull and I was allowed a tiny liqueur glass of sweet sherry. Did I enjoy the taste? I’ve no idea but it felt very grown up.
After lunch we watched The Queen’s Speech and then I’d curl up with chocolate and one of the annuals. There was always a film on TV that we’d been longing to see – no videos or DVDs back then.
Mum was a ward sister at the hospital in nearby Bromsgrove and for several years, on Boxing Day afternoon, we’d go to the hospital to visit some of her patients. We children always came away with another haul of chocolate and coins.
As a mum of little children
‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;
The children were nestled all snug in their beds;
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;
All through December I would read this to my children. I still have it, now well worn. One year my daughter asked if she could have some ‘visions of sugarplums’ for Christmas!
I loved the choosing, the buying and the wrapping. I loved stuffing the Christmas stockings (commercial produced and made of felt until one year I sewed my own) with items not dissimilar to those of my own childhood. A little string bag of gold and silver foil-wrapped chocolate money was always a must.
The tree was decorated with baubles from my childhood, toilet-roll angels and cut-out snowmen blobbed with glue and cotton wool, each crafted with care by little hands, and perhaps some new trinket eagerly chosen at the nursery on the annual outing to chose the best tree we could find.
The school nativity or Christmas show, new pyjamas for Christmas Eve, Christmas Carols whilst I prepared the veg…happy memories. And always, without fail, a visit to my friend at 3pm on Christmas Eve for wine and gift exchange.
How many times did I shout up the stairs to be quiet and go to sleep? I’d tell them that it had just been on the news – Father Christmas was already in the next town along! If he arrived and they’d still been awake…then what? Of course, it never happened. 11.30pm and time for the midnight service. I never missed.
They’d wake early, open their stockings, sneak downstairs to peek under the tree. Their father would light the fire (by then we had central heating but that open fire was a part of Christmas) whilst I made crumpets, our traditional Christmas breakfast. We ate them with peanut butter. As each one learned to read so they were in charge of gift distribution. Oh those happy little faces. Nanny and Granny always came for lunch.
By this I mean since the children grew up. As many as thirteen, as few as three – I’ve cooked for every number in between. Only twice in 42 years have I not cooked Christmas dinner, and on both occasions, as nice as it was to be invited out, I missed it. It’s part of what I do. When ones children have in-laws and families of their own we have to relinquish our right to preside over the celebrations. Last year I saw the devastation caused in a family by a friend’s failure to understand and accept this. It was so sad for all concerned and the fracture it caused still reverberates. Of course I would love to have all my family together but I know that they have others to consider, and as the grandchildren grow, the families want to be in their own home on Christmas Day, building their own traditions. It’s only right. We see them all at some point but not necessarily for Christmas dinner, and not often all together.
It was different. There were just three of us for Christmas dinner – husband, self and my brother. It was the first time that at least one of my children had not been present. It felt strange- our quietest Christmas. But we had all been together, every one of us, just three days earlier, for my daughter’s wedding on 22nd December and it was wonderful.
With my daughter – 22nd December 2016
This year we will be six for lunch on the day. Eldest son’s family and the two of us. Daughter will be in New York and younger son and family are staying at home. We’ll pop round to see them in the morning and the girls will excitedly show us their spoils.
Nothing stays the same. Sometimes it’s a good thing, other times it makes one wistful. I still listen to Christmas carols whilst I prep the veg on Christmas Eve and I still visit my friend at 3pm for wine and to exchange gifts, but oh how I miss filling the stockings and listening at bedroom doors wondering whether little ones are asleep.
And how I miss, so very much, those joyful little faces when they shout out, “He’s been!”