I wonder if most families follow the same pattern for Christmas days – I mean the same for them, year after year? When I was growing up there were just us two children and mum and dad, but our Aunty Audrey always came for Christmas lunch, and I remember my grandpa being with us one year, and when the Queen’s broadcast came on the radio, he stood up out of respect to listen to it. He stood there solemnly, as usual smoking a cigarette, and I was sitting on the floor – probably doing a jigsaw, and just sat still, watching him. It impressed me somehow, that he was so serious, and was in our little sitting room in our little flat, honouring the Queen.
One year my uncle and his wife, or maybe fiancée stayed with us. My sister and I slept in sleeping bags on the floor of our parents’ room and aunty and uncle had our room. I woke in the dark and felt the familiar heavy weight of a full stocking on my feet – Father Christmas had been! My sister and I always had stockings and would sit up in bed – it must have been freezing, no central heating and colder winters than now. After our stockings we would go into the sitting room, and dad would give out the presents, too much excitement and joy. I like surprises so I never felt the presents through the wrapping paper or tried to guess but sometimes it was inevitable if it was to my joy a book shaped gift! We only had one present each, but others from aunties and uncles, and although I don’t remember, we must have had gifs from our grandparents when we were small.
After breakfast – and I don’t remember anything special for Christmas Day breakfast, people would visit, neighbours and usually cousins but sometimes friends of my parents; later it became a tradition to visit my father’s boss and his family – one of the daughters was my best friend so it was a doubly lovely occasion. Dad would have cycled to the baker’s early to take the turkey to be cooked in the big oven along with other menfolk. Later he would drop into his nearby local, The New Spring, for a quick half, before collecting the turkey – did he bring it back on his bike? He must have done before we had a car, but I don’t remember. Maybe I have misremembered, and we had a small bird before we had the car and it was cooked at home.
The afternoon would drifty by with playing games, doing jigsaws, reading the new book, and then there would be tea with Mum’s Christmas cake of course. Meals were smaller then, we weren’t so greedy or over indulgent, so Christmas cake and cold chicken sandwiches were much appreciated. In the evening we would play card games and then we children would go to bed and the grownups would stay up, having drinks, and maybe still playing cards.
The pattern continued of Christmas stockings – now Father Christmas visited our parents too, presents round the tree before or after breakfast, seeing folk either at home or visiting, lunch, lazy afternoon and maybe a walk, sandwiches and cake, a relaxed evening and then bed. At some point we became more generous as were more able to afford it, and more than one gift each. We moved to the West Country, and each year my aunty and uncle would come to stay, but the tradition went on. I moved away, but came home every year; my sister suffered a terrible and tragic accident but once after several years she was able, she came home and had Christmas with us before returning to her care home.
When My parents died and I married and had children on my own, we still returned to the west country to have my sister home, and our aunty and uncle would visit, and now also my mother-in-law, and two friends in the village who would otherwise have been on their own. We would wake on Christmas morning, find that Father Christmas had visited and our stockings were full of little things, toiletries, sweeties, chocolate, novelties, small gifts. We would gather round the Christmas tree and our bigger gifts to each other would be exchanged. Christmas lunch, a walk if the weather was clement, then home for a small snack, maybe cheese and biscuits and a piece of cake.
Now our Christmas has shrunk, back to when I was a child. Our little family of four wakes on Christmas morning and when we have looked at the generous gifts Father Christmas has brought each of us in our stockings, we gather as ever round the Christmas tree, and Father Christmas himself, now wearing a snazzy onesie and looking rather like my husband, gives out the presents. In previous years, the turkey in the oven, we have driven over to my sister’s care home to see her as she is no longer able to come home, but this year sadly not. We did however see her through a perspex screen on Christmas Eve, so we were able to give her our Christmas wishes. Christmas lunch is a lovely affair, chatting, laughing, telling stories, eating, enjoying being together, and then the day trickles away. Maybe a walk, maybe a Christmas game, maybe just enjoying books, gifts and the delicious treats we’ve all received.
When our children have families of their own, will they have their own ways of celebration, or will some of the patterns going down the generations still continue? That’s one of the joys, the threads weaving and intertwining, old ones still strong, new ones brightening and bringing different joy.