No. 2. Christmasses past
One of the reasons a lot of people don’t enjoy Christmas is that they didn’t enjoy it as a child. I feel incredibly fortunate to have had very happy Christmasses as a child, which have left me with an enduring sense of the magic of Christmas.
It would start at the beginning of December when Dad would get the big old suitcase of decorations down from the loft and take out the Advent House. This was a cardboard gingerbread house which had once held Christmas biscuits from Germany. Every year I had to repair it, sticking the little paper doors back on with sellotape and creating some others where the scraps of paper had been lost, cutting them to shape and colouring them in so they matched. I don’t think any of today’s children uncovering treats or sweets could love their Advent calendar as much as we loved our weird little house and its familiar doors and windows.
Then two or three weeks before Christmas there was making of the Advent Crown on Blue Peter. It was only two coat hangers, some baubles, four candles and some fireproof tinsel (they were always very careful to stress that it should be fireproof tinsel – ah, those were the halcyon pre-ElfnSafety days, when primary school children were encouraged to create Christmas decorations that involved getting up close and personal with naked flames). Even so it was magic, especially the last episode before Christmas when the programme ended with a brass band, a children’s choir and the presenters standing beneath the Advent Crown, all four candles lit, and the studio lights dimmed as the carols rang out to play us out. I never made an Advent Crown, but it was so Christmassy!
And then there were presents. Trying to work out exactly what to buy for everyone with my limited funds, treasuring them away and then wrapping them perfectly so they looked lovely. One Christmas I had enough money to buy my best friend a bottle of Aqua Manda, and I can remember sitting in front of the fire in our living room while I wrapped it, enjoying the iconic brown and orange faux Art Nouveau packaging and hugging myself at the thought of her delight when she opened it.
We never had decorations in our house until Christmas Eve. That was when we decorated the tree and put the other decorations up, including the crib, which had been a present from my grandparents to my parents for their first Christmas together. It had a real stable, made with tiny logs and miniature post-and-rail fences and it had straw glued to its floor and moss to its roof so it looked real. We had all the figures, including two little plastic lambs, and a weeny crib for baby Jesus which every year had to be lined with a scrap of folded tissue so he would be cosy. We always put all the figures out on Christmas Eve, including the Three Kings, unlike our neighbours across the road who were proper Christians and never put Caspar, Balthazar and Melchior out until 6th of January.