I have to admit that I do love Christmas.
I love the darker evenings leading up to it, when we are all snug indoors in front of a roaring log fire – a metaphorical fire at the moment – the extension that is now our living room, does not have a fireplace. The other two reception rooms do have fireplaces I might add. What a waste!
How did we not remember this vital piece of Christmas equipment when drawing up the plans? I suspect it was due to the fact that the extension was originally to be a dining room – until my brother-in-law pointed out that it’d make a far better living area. We have since been looking at wood burning stoves and by next Christmas we should have one installed – with a chimney it is to be hoped.
The idea of the roaring fire lives on however. We improvise with candles. My husband is besotted with candles. Pyromaniacs Anonymous may be interested in him.
Christmas feeds his obsession to the full. Hence, we have a stock of scented and plain, Christmas and household candles, scattered about the house at all times. (Power cuts do not phase us) Candles blaze in the fireplaces that are not actually being used and teeter on top of dressers in the kitchen (until I tactfully point out the fire risk). Husband shrugs and gives me a long explanation involving a hideous mechanical engineering equation or theory that supposedly means the candles are not going to fall over. I raise other possibilities, candles being subject to high winds (in the kitchen?) candles being forgotten and left burning all night…for this I receive pitying looks.
Nevertheless, it is I who can be found, creeping round the house, blowing out candles while he stays up late to watch a film. I trust him of course but…
So, candles replace the roaring log fire in our house at the moment. Not to worry, my Christmas memories remain intact.
I envisage delightful evenings of family games and reading – lots of reading! This year I was given no less than nine books. I confess I have yet to finish any of them but that has more to do with the fact that the house was particularly busy, with 14 adults, two babies and four dogs (one a very large Old English Sheepdog) taking up residence over Christmas and New year.
Despite the advent of computers, iphones, ipads and the Kindle, books remain my number one present. I stockpile them for rainy days, holidays and for the days when a book is all you need to transport you to another world.
Childhood Christmases always yielded a good supply of the latter. Books were my passport to new worlds, full of magic and promise.
It isn’t a book that brings back my most vivid memory however…this honour belongs to something quite different…
Hornchurch, England, circa1961
I believe in Father Christmas. I am five years old and share a room with my sister, Beverly, who is almost three years older.
It is Christmas Eve. We lie in our beds, listening for sleigh bells. Of course we hear them. We even catch a glimpse of a sleigh riding across the sky – I am sure we do. Kneeling up on our beds, pulling the curtains aside to peep out into the black night, our imaginations take over.
The sounds of the grown ups, pottering around downstairs, float up to us and we snuggle down beneath the eiderdown, wondering what Father Christmas will bring us.
We don’t think we will ever get to sleep. We can’t imagine being asleep when he comes so we tell ourselves we’ll pretend…Father Christmas does not come to children who are awake.
Our eyes snap open. Something has woken us. The room is still dark. What time is it? 5 o’clock? 6 o’clock?
Sitting up, the eiderdown still pulled tight across our chests, our breath visible in the air by the light of the street lamp shining dimly through the curtains, we stare at the lumpy pillowcases leaning beside each of our beds. Inching forward, shivering with excitement more than cold, we reach out and touch the exciting bundle. We feel the lumps and bumps and dip our hands into the very top of the sack to extract the strategically placed tin of toffees that lie on top. These are fair game. These are something we are always allowed to open before Mum and Dad are up.
Of course, we can’t help but notice the long, oblong parcel poking out of the top of each sack. What can it contain?
We slip back between the sheets and fumble with the tin of toffees. Succulent, creamy heaven feeds us for a bit.
Dentistry be damned!
We giggle and listen for any sounds of movement from our parent’s room. Baby brother sleeps, he’ll be up soon. Mother will have to get up!
Shall we go and wake our older sister? We dare not! Best to wait.
Someone must have come into the room because the light is on and the pillow slip is visible in all its glory. Colourfully wrapped packages burst out of its tightly stretched top, others strain at the cotton casing, stretching it into impossible, teasing, shapes.
The oblong packages beckon. We are allowed to open them!
Tension mounts as we each pull at the wrapping and at one and the same time, pull out the box within.
Our excitement knows no bounds. The black, hard plastic, doll in the box is beautiful. Her tight curls sit on her head like silk. Her gap -toothed smile warms the heart. In each ear she wears a gold hoop and her dress is a red printed cotton, edged with yellow. On her feet she has a pair of dainty white shoes and she can walk! Tip her up and she cries, “mama!” walk her along and her legs click and her arms move. We are awe struck.
Each doll is identical to the other yet right away we can tell them apart. As always, we name them. Mine is Topsy, Beverly’s is Cindy. Cindy is the name the doll came with and as the elder of us, Beverly is allowed it. Mother helps me choose another.
I don’t recall what else we had that Christmas in that lumpy, bumpy sack. The doll is what I remember and the mutual excitement with which we each unwrapped her.
I also remember my sister and I, clad in pink brushed nylon pyjamas, shivering with excitement and expectation in the cold, morning light, sharing just a moment of magic…
P.S.This Christmas, I received several beautiful candles as presents. Perhaps the most beautiful in both scent and decoration, was the one from Jonathan Ward’s Russian collection. Zoe designed the packaging and it is gorgeous – don’t believe me? Take a look!