The happiest memories from my childhood start with the TV getting shifted from the living room into the lounge. That was the signal that Christmas had arrived. We would get into the holiday spirit by putting the TV in the posh room (the actual reason was that the living room became the dining room on Christmas Day and the lounge was more suitable for my dad and my uncle to fall asleep on big comfy armchairs while missing Morecambe and Wise on the TV that had been placed in the lounge so they wouldn’t miss Morecambe and Wise). The tree would go up, the paper garlands would be stretched from each corner of the room to the light in the middle and another layer of sellotape would be added to the light fitting. When it was all done I would sit in the darkened room watching our very fake tree dance and shimmer under the weight of baubles and tinsel, illuminated only by our string of lights that were an ancient affront to all that health and safety, and the fire brigade, held precious. The room smelled vaguely musty from the decorations that had lived in the loft for a year. It’s the smell of Christmas. For two weeks the house was different, the outside world could have as brief and dismal day as it liked, it was warm, colourful and happy indoors
On Christmas morning I had a sudden and excited wakening at a ridiculous hour. It would almost instantly be followed by frantic scampering down stairs to the front room. Santa had carefully left all my presents not only under the tree but along the couch too! The shouts of delight followed by the tearing of paper. There would be endless questions about Santa to a mother who had spent hours buying and wrapping the presents. She would sit oohing and aahing along to my squeals of delight. Looking especially happy when I reacted with loud happiness to an unexpected left field present that Santa had chosen. The day was spent playing with new Action Men, board games, trump cards, Airfix kits and trying to surreptitiously open a chocolate orange or selection box. I would start the very careful plotting of how to get maximum value out of my book tokens and John Menzies vouchers. The day would take a little down hill turn later when I would have to put up with a family dinner instead of seeing my friends and comparing presents. Nothing lived up to that magical first hour of Christmas day
As each year passed the awakening became less exciting, less sudden and less welcome. There were fewer presents to open and no mother to watch over me.
Now it has become completely different…
“We only have 15 dishwasher tablets! For God’s, sake who let that happen?”
We should be okay, it’s Christmas Eve and the Co-Op will be open again on Boxing Day. But maybe you should nip out and get more.”
Do we have enough wine? Beer? Crisps? Goose fat? Potatoes? Sprouts? Toilet Roll? Petrol? …After Eights? Please tell me we have After Eights!
“Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. No. Yes and of course. Have you wrapped the presents?
” I thought you had!”
“Oh, God! Where’s the paper”
And so it goes on. We lurch from crisis to crisis. Each one becoming more dramatic than the last the closer to Christmas Day we get. When Christmas day actually appears we crawl from our bed as our children pin ball around the house in a blur of shredding paper sounding like a cross between squealing brakes and air raid sirens. We spend the day in a battle to minimise the amount of chocolate being ingested so we can maximise the amount of sprouts, roast potatoes and stuffing they will eat.
There is an element of endurance in Christmas now.
This doesn’t appeal to me. For every piece of crass commercialism there is a well dressed tree. For every Christmas advert in October there is a dark December morning where the first thing you do is switch on the Christmas lights. For every Cyber Monday or Black Friday there is NORAD tracking Santa around the world or a small child making sure for the 16th time that we have reindeer food.
I want a Christmas where everybody enjoys themselves. I fondly imagine a holiday period when the kids do their kid things while we adults sit around utterly relaxed, maybe reading a book or even a newspaper. Looking up every so often to converse knowledgeably and eruditely like a Radio 4 current affairs programme but wittier. That would be nice. The different generations would occasionally meet up for a lovely lunch or dinner and there would be smiles all round. Everything would be happy and be lit by a shimmering, gentle and tinsely light. We would venture out into a deep, crisp and even wonderland for snowball fights and dog walks to the beach. When we return to the warmth of the house knocking and brushing snow from boots, jackets, scarves and gloves w2hich are then abandoned in a pile at the door as we rush into the kitchen to partake of hot chocolate and hotter mince pies. Everybody laughs, everybody is relaxed and nobody obsesses about our being able to survive with all the shops being shut for a day.
I know it’s not going to happen but I like to try. I am the one who makes a playlist of Christmas songs (both carols and pop), I am the person who switches off all non Christmas lights throughout the house causing blunders, stubs and strangled and muffled swearing in pain. I hum and whistle excerpts from my carefully crafted Christmas playlist. I make untenable plans for the festive period to be even more festive. Every year I am grimly determined to be a jolly as I can, come hell or high water. As Clark Griswold so sagely put it in my favourite Christmas film National Lampoons Christmas Vacation.
“We’re gonna have the hap, hap, happiest Christmas since Bing Crosby tap-danced with Danny fucking Kaye. And when Santa squeezes his fat white ass down that chimney tonight, he’s gonna find the jolliest bunch of assholes this side of the nuthouse.”
Have very merry Christmas everybody.