More Christmas Thoughts

Every year I have these wonderful intentions of buying early for Christmas and avoiding that last-minute rush that always culminates with an over-extended credit card. And every year December arrives before I’m ready for it. From about July onwards, the months gain momentum and speed up, which is why we all need a good holiday in December.

For me, Christmas carries an associated feeling of nostalgia for childhood. Although I have now spent more Christmases in the sun than I did in the northern hemisphere winter, it still doesn’t feel right.  I struggle to get that Santa magic feeling inside me. The memories of childhood traditions remain. In my memory the whole ambience was good although there were some distinctly non-fabulous moments.

One year I was the cause of my mother’s distress. It was Christmas Eve, my last Christmas at school. A group of us had been out every night carol singing. One night we went round all the villages, singing at the manor houses and stately homes. We were often invited in for a sherry and a mince pie and sometimes were asked to sing a few more carols while being accompanied on their grand piano.

The last night, Christmas Eve, we went around the local pubs. We made more money there than we had done over the previous four or five nights. I had told my parents we were going straight to midnight mass after the carols, but I omitted to tell them which church we were going to.  They assumed I would go to our United Reform, the church our family attended every week. That service started at 11.30 and would be finished just after twelve.

However, a group of us decided we would go to one of the beautiful old village churches, where the service only started at midnight. The little church was packed to capacity and even now I feel excitement coming over me as I picture the candles flickering from our breath as we sang.  The high roof and the lack of soft furnishing gave rise to wonderful acoustics and the two hours it took for everyone to take communion seemed to pass easily.

But when I rolled home at around two forty-five in the morning, I found Mum sitting upright in bed, angrily demanding what I had been doing.  At the time I felt quite hurt that she should be so cross when I had only been to church. However, with the experience of parenthood myself, I now understand.

I have been so privileged in being able to spend every Christmas with at least one branch of my family. Never have I spent a Christmas without any children around. In an ideal world we would all be together every year, but the world is far from ideal. And I daresay even if we were all together there would be tensions created by interpersonal relationships. As the family grows, it would be unreasonable to expect everybody to be best friends with everybody else. And somehow I think as women we expect too much. We try too hard, spend too much money, and drive ourselves into a state of exhaustion. Because it’s Christmas everything must be perfect. But there are things beyond our control. There can be someone who drinks too much and offends someone else. Or  there could be one couple in the middle of a domestic disagreement which causes a general tension. Or one person who hasn’t contributed or bought presents. And some who don’t know when it’s time to go home.

But of course, none of that would happen in an ideal world!

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Christmas continued

For many years we had two Christmas dinners. One year my father’s brother John and his family would come to us on Christmas Day, and we would go to them on Boxing Day to do the whole thing all over again. The following year it would be vice-versa.

In both houses there were bowls of mandarins and boxes of dates and figs for anyone to tuck into and my aunt’s special touch was a dish of Quality Street on the table.

On Boxing Day morning the whole town would assemble to watch The Meet. It was a colourful affair with the Master of the hunt in his red jacket sipping his stirrup cup and dogs running between the steaming heaps of horse manure. Those were the days before people had any conscience about the inhumane and savage nature of the hunt. Farming people constantly complained about foxes killing their lambs and chicken, so as children, we just enjoyed the pomp and ceremony of The Meet.

It often seemed to be cold on Boxing Day. Several years I remember a sprinkling of snow, which quickly turned to ugly brown slush as most of the population of Bridport stomped up and down through it, trying to keep their feet warm. Talk and laughter steamed from people’s mouths, and gloved hands looked for hankies to blot the constant dripping of red noses. When the hunting horn sounded and horses and riders moved off, many people headed into the pubs. We trooped excitedly home, in anticipation of our second Christmas dinner.

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After lunch, some of the family found themselves a comfortable chair while others walked off the feelings of distended stomachs. Then it was time for games and more food, a little concert, more food, and perhaps a bit of a singsong before that last little snack to see us through the night.