I was chatting with my sister the other evening. We were talking about Christmas parties, family traditions and generally about our low expectations for this time of the year. It used to bother me that somehow I didn’t ‘get’ Christmas, the preparations, the anticipation, the gift-buying. I love putting up the decorations and bringing light into the house and it is too simple to say that I am just a bah humbug sort of person. I think I just don’t get infected with what I see as seasonal hysteria.
I simply don’t understand the fuss. Partly because I don’t really know what to do. When I am faced with the inevitable question ‘all set for Christmas?’ I don’t know how to answer. What does it mean? What is there to do that is extra? We might buy a few more sprouts and potatoes than usual and perhaps a rich fruit cake and a box of mince pies. There are presents to wrap – but it takes about an hour. What is all the fuss?
I’m not criticising those who have to plan and host the family Christmas meal – it takes some doing and I don’t envy them that. My issue is that I don’t think as a child, my family had any Christmas traditions. We went to our maternal grandparents on Boxing Day – that was the family party and we ate and played silly games and there were balloons and trimmings around. But us kids were not the focus – sitting to eat at a separate table and then told to go and play in the bedroom.
Beyond that Boxing Day get together there was not much else. Apart from the Christmas certainty that we had to work. In the Old People’s Home where we lived. Mum and Dad ran a private residential home and often at the major holidays the few staff they had wanted to be at home. Fortunately they had 3 live-in helpers – not always so willing – to serve morning tea, help make breakfast, make the beds, prepare lunch. Sounds mean but it didn’t feel it at the time. I was the youngest and so all I could ever remember was this, having to work at Christmas. The biggest upset was that it often meant I couldn’t watch Top of the Pops or Disney Cartoon Showtime as it clashed with some mealtime.
We got up early, with excitement, and opened our presents. We played with our toys and we watched TV. We ate a traditional Christmas meal. But. And I think this is a big but. We were not on our own, as a family. There were 10 or 12 old people who were paying to live with us, to be fed, to be looked after. Some of them were more pleasant than others but all had to be dealt with. It was an odd sort of life but at the time it seemed, as life does to children, perfectly normal.
Perhaps I don’t understand Christmas because I am that sort of person – a misery guts who fails to see the goodness that abounds at this happy time of year. Perhaps I don’t see the goodness because I don’t have any children and as anyone will tell you it is all about the children (it isn’t but no matter!). I actually think it is a bit more subtle than that. I think that my Christmas was very, very, very different to the Christmas experienced by any of my young friends. I appreciate it wasn’t that bad, we weren’t homeless, we were not destitute and Mum and Dad were as generous as they could be. I’m confident that I am one amongst the many of people who had a weird childhood Christmas. And I say that without any self-pity. It was odd and it has left me without a template for what to do with my own, adult Christmas.
When I think of Christmas I think of those times when I wanted to see who was Number 1 in the charts rather than take a morning coffee to Miss Horsefield in number 3 bedroom, when I wanted to play with one of my presents rather than load the dishwasher, when Mum had to be on duty rather than sit with us and watch a film. They are not times that I look back on fondly with nostalgia and certainly not activities I try to recreate.
Now I’ve settled into a quiet Christmas – the euphemism for not celebrated in any real way. And next time someone asks me if I am ready for Christmas…well, I’ll probably say yes. Because I am. Always.