When I was a young lass, Christmas was a magical time. It tended to start in December with the Advent calendar (no chocolate back then, just the excitement of opening a little flap to reveal a snippet from the nativity scene, with Mary and Joseph and the Baby Jee always behind number 24).
The Christmas tree came into the house about a week before Christmas day, and was duly decorated in a jumble of mismatched Christmas decorations of varying quality, including a very sad fairy that topped the tree for many years whilst deteriorating before our very eyes. The Chinese lantern lights though, they were always amazing. I have them still, and one day I will find someone to make them work again.
A friend of our parents, known as Mouse, always gave the family a homemade cardboard snowman or similar, with little gifts tucked inside.
There was always the Crib service, where local families would pile into St Nicholas Church in Stoneham and troop up to marvel at the lambs, donkeys and kings in another nativity scene. We’d sing our hearts out and be very proud of ourselves when we were old enough to break away for the descant parts in the carols. Small pleasures.
In our house we didn’t have stockings, we had pillowcases, laid at the bottom of our beds. There was such anticipation, we never had a clue what Santa would bring, despite our hopeful Christmas lists. Some years there was joy, others disappointment (I really didn’t want a giant doll when I was 11, and the suitcase I received at 13 made me wonder if my parents were hinting at something – well, I was an obnoxious adolescent).
As I grew up, the festive season continued to be special as it became centred round friends and alcohol, but always with the huge family gathering, a chaotic Christmas dinner and the legal requirement to wear any Christmas pants on your head, and socks on your hands (which made eating the Christmas meal rather tricky). Mum was up at 4am to put the turkey in the oven, and the Brussels sprouts were cooked at least a week in advance.
Christmas has changed over the years, it’s no secret. As children, we weren’t subject to aggressive advertisements for toys from September, or the constant expectation of having ‘the best Christmas ever. Ever, ever, ever.’ We didn’t demand gifts costing hundreds of pounds. If we had done, we wouldn’t have got them. As my own children grew up I got a little sucked into the commercialism, chasing around after the year’s ‘must-have’ toys and trying hard to make everything perfect. It was exhausting.
The ‘meaning’ of Christmas, whatever your faith, has more or less gone down the plug hole. I’ve no idea anymore what it’s all about, although the word ‘greed’ comes to mind. So, I was amazed this year when I said to my teenage children that Christmas would be a little quiet, and the presents not terrifically thrilling. They both replied that Christmas was about family and being together. And actually they’re right, that is the meaning now if we can only hold on to it, which I think gets harder every year.
Suffice to say, despite (or perhaps because of) my best efforts, our own Christmas tree is a jumble of mismatched Christmas decorations of varying quality. Although we sadly don’t have that dilapidated angel, who was consigned to the Great Tree in the Sky many decades ago, this year we did have Rudolf the Red Nosed Camel, and for that I will always be grateful.