Christmas past and present

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.

Christmas later
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.

Christmas 2016
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

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Christmas 2017
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!”

 

17 comments

  1. Enjoyed reading this. We are about to visit our daughter who lives in Ireland with husband and our granddaughters and spend Christmas with them. Our first Irish Christmas, but we will therefore not be with our other 2 daughters and their family. Lots of happiness and a little tinge of knowing our children are grown up and life changes including Christmas . Enjoy your Christmas xx

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    • Yes, life changes as they become adult. Good in some ways but always means compromise at times like Christmas. Enjoy your Irish Christmas.

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  2. Enjoyed reading this. We are about to visit our daughter who lives in Ireland with husband and our granddaughters and spend Christmas with them. Our first Irish Christmas, but we will therefore not be with our other 2 daughters and their family. Lots of happiness and a little tinge of knowing our children are grown up and life changes including Christmas . Enjoy your Christmas xx

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  3. My adult sons come home for Christmas Day. I’ve offered to send their stockings and presents to their homes but not they want to come back.

    Christmas lunch is anywhere from 5 to 10 to sit down. I have a friend who comes every other year (her child goes to her father’s for Christmas and no intown relatives), friends of my children have attended, one young man’s family don’t do Christmas, they are atheists.

    This year I may have 9. I usually find out the morning of the day, lol.

    My DIL in now makes and brings the trifle. My youngest son, who is single buys the turkey.

    They have all decided they want my Christmas/winter dinner service, luckily their are 8 place settings, to they can each have four. That’s when they will know I’m passing the torch. The dinner set will be divided.

    Merry Christmas to you and yours.

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    • That sounds wonderful. My younger son dug his heel in to come here long after his wife daughters wanted Christmas at home. They’ve won this year. I tell him it’s all about compromise! In 2010 I had a friend and her mum who were due to fly to USA on Christmas eve, but flights were cancelled due to the awful weather. They had no food in but we always have plenty, so two extra was no hardship! Have a very Merry Christmas too.

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  4. Eloise, you are truly a thoughtful and caring person. Yes, we must step aside sometimes. This year my youngest (nearly 30) is having us all gather at her home for lunch on Christmas Eve, as we now have so many additions (of the in-law variety – or as I say: “honorary daughter, son, grand-daughter), & of course our own offspring belong then to 2 families. I well remember the pressure when my eldest were young, trying to fit it 3 other celebrations each Christmas Day as well as our own. It wasn’t actually enjoyable. Your childhood Christmas and those of your children, sounded so amazing.

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    • Haha, maybe only amazing in my memory…..rose tinted spectacles, Ratnamurti. I’m sure I was as stressed as the next mum! But there were wonderful bits too. Thank you for your kind comments. X

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  5. I so agree with all you write! I had the obligatory satsuma and nuts in a sick as did my children…like you, I miss having my adult children with me on Christmas Day – but that’s life! We’re lucky in that we have our memories I guess! I do s t r e t c h Christmas out; we celebrate with f and f from 24-31 december.
    Fab blog 📝😍

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    • Thank Leigh. I always say that I miss my little children. The grown up versions tell me that they are the same people….but I know different. I could control them then!

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  6. That brought wistful tears to my eyes, Eloise, as I feel much the same way – relinquishing the matriarchal role now, handing over the Christmas reins to the next generation who are already middle-aged! It’s difficult sometimes to sit back when we’ve been so used to doing it all – the shopping for the presents, the wrapping, the planning and preparation of the once-in-a-year special dinner, but it’s what happens and we shouldn’t mind, just be glad we’ve still our lovely families, and that in time they will have their own traditions, too. I have loved not only hearing about your childhood Christmases, then when your children were young, but also how you plan to spend it this year. Christmas isn’t worth a rift as has happened with your friend and her family, she having failed to understand that the Christmas baton, as in a relay race, must be passed on. That is not what Christmas is about. May you and your family have a very happy Christmas, Eloise.

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    • Thank you for your lovely comments, Margaret. It is indeed a ‘relay’. Sometimes I think it would be nice to have someone else manage the entire show, but not just yet. Several of us told our mutual friend to ‘let go’ but she couldn’t or wouldn’t and the repercussions were disasterous. I’ve always told me children that they must share themselves out at Christmas. That’s the way it is. I hope your Christmas is joyous. X

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  7. I loved reading about your Christmases past and present. As a child we had similar things in our stocking, always an orange too, but our ‘stocking’ was a pillow case, something i did for my girls until sacks became the thing to do. Seeing those little faces on Christmas morning made it all worth while for me, even now i’m better at giving than receiving.
    My middle daughter is hosting lunch for us all this year, but like you in other years our eldest children have had lunch with in-laws, and I have understood that, i’m not one to cause a fuss over such things, life is too short.

    Your daughter got married on my eldest daughter’s birthday 🙂

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    • Hi Maggie, I always envied those friends who talked about their ‘pillowcase’, until my mother told me that they didn’t get a pile of presents under the tree. I decided that my small stocking and the tree were Ok after all. Haha, giving birth on 22nd is cutting it fine. One of mine was due on Christmas eve but had the sense to arrive earlier in the month! Enjoy your family time.

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