One of the best things about Christmas is the memories. Do you have happy ones?
I remember as a child, lying in bed and straining to hear the bells of Santa’s sleigh. Every year, sometime in late December, I would hear him—playing loud seventies pop music—as his sleigh drove around my home town. Mum would give us coins for the people rattling tins, and we would rush out, and Santa would lean over his sleigh (balanced on the back of a lorry—but that never struck me as strange) and pass us sweets. The sweets were never especially nice, but they were oh! so exciting! because they came directly from Father Christmas. (And thank you to the Letchworth Roundtable for organising this snippet of joy.)
My father always cooked Christmas lunch, after church and after his siblings had come round for a glass of sherry. We never ate very early. He cooked a wonderful dinner, and used absolutely every saucepan in the house. His speciality was the gravy, which was rich and smooth, made with meat juices and stock—it was like soup and he always made enough for about 57 people (and we never, as far as I can remember, had more than our family of 5 for Christmas lunch). Every year mouth-watering smells would seep out from the kitchen, and one of us would ‘volunteer’ to be Dad’s helper. This involved washing up for about 3 hours straight. Eventually the dinner would be ready, and we would carry the food to the dining table in the front room (only ever used on Christmas Day and for ‘posh’ meals with guests). Every year my parents would laugh at how late the lunch was (it often clashed with the Queen’s speech). Very often, to our dismay, we would have just said grace and be about to start when the phone would ring, and it would be ‘Aunty Pam from America.’ This was a big deal for my parents (she was my mum’s sister, but we didn’t really know her, so we mostly resented the intrusion).
When I was young, Father Christmas came secretly in the night and left a knitted sock of gifts on the end of our beds. (The socks were from my Dad’s wellies, and there was one terrible Christmas Eve when we couldn’t find them!) We could open the gifts as soon as we were awake, so we tended to wake very early. There was always an orange and a slightly bruised apple. My Dad would always get up and sit in his dressing gown watching us. When I was older, I realised that he had made some of the gifts himself, and I can guess how excited he would have been to watch us discover the farmyard, or the fort, or the puppet theatre. There is a certain smell of wood varnish, which even today zaps me straight back to Christmas Day.
I am now a mother, and I have another layer of memories with my own children. When they were small, Christmas Eve was all about preparing the food. I would turn a loaf of bread into crumbs for the stuffing, and a chubby toddler would eat all the crusts. We would sit in front of a film in the afternoon with a tray of sprouts, peeling them and tossing them into the colander ready for the next day. The youngest would diligently peel layer after layer, and then announce: “This one’s empty,” before starting on the next one.
I was always too excited to sleep Christmas Eve, waiting for them to wake and open their ‘Father Christmas presents.’ They all woke disappointingly late, and then would want to savour each gift before opening the next one (not my genes). As soon as they were old enough, I forced them to agree that we would open ‘stocking gifts’ on Christmas Eve, after dinner. I manage to sleep better.
We now all share the buying of stocking gifts, everyone adding small gifts or jokes to the named bags. Then we sit round, laughing at the person who received 29 bars of soap, or the funny tee-shirt that I bought after a glass of wine and sorely regretted ever after. . . And I know that Christmas is about God coming into the world as a baby, and knowing his peace, and being able to know him—but to be honest, this Christmas Eve opening of gifts is my favourite part of Christmas, it is just us, under the twinkle of lights from the tree, warm and relaxed, sharing laughter and love.
This Christmas will be different, an adapting of plans due to Covid, but I hope it will still be special. I hope that you will find ways to make it lovely, I hope that you add some more special memories to the storehouse in your mind.
Happy Christmas 2020 from me.
Love, Anne x