Listening to the radio, we heard stories of other people’s Christmases, the oldest and most cherished decoration on a Christmas tree, having Christmas away from home, sharing Christmas Day with others – sometimes strangers, childhood memories and strange and unexpected Christmases.
It’s two days before Christmas and like everyone we have things to do but we have, I think (hope) got ourselves pretty much organised. Thinking back to my childhood Christmas I seem to remember that everything was kept quite low-key until Christmas Eve, when the tree was bought and decorated – one year my dad left it too late and we had no tree, but nothing daunted we decorated a houseplant instead. He would go to the cattle market for both the tree and the turkey – the turkey was bought when the farmers brought in their birds on a particular day and everyone went to get them. My dad only had a bike, so now I have a vision of him cycling home with a turkey balanced on the handlebars – no plastic bags in those days so it would have been wrapped in paper or maybe an old sack! He would have also brought the tree home on his bike…
Our tree is decorated; traditionally at home we did that on Christmas Eve – my daughter, however, thinks Christmas should start as early as possible… our tree was bought and decorated last week, and looks lovely. These days it seems each year there has to be new things; in our very different lives when we were children, my sister and I loved bringing out the same old decorations every year, maybe with the addition of home-made paper-chains. On our tree today, we have a tiny plastic angel which is the only thing left from those long-ago days, apart from one single glass bauble which my dad made. As a scientist he sometimes needed particular pieces of equipment so he would make his own – and he also made other glass things including a chess set for me, and decorations for the tree.
I only remember our family being away from home once for Christmas, it was in terrible winter of 1962 and we drove in our little Austin A35 with no heating, up to Sheffield to stay with my dad’s brother and family. The journey was appalling and at one stage my parents discussed turning round and going home. To my sister and I it was one big huge adventure and we pressed them to continue… and eight hours later we arrived. At one point we had to stop at a chemist and buy glycerine to pour over the windscreen as it kept freezing over (no de-icer in those days) then we were stopped at a junction, and the man behind us skidded into the back of the car. He said dad had slid into him, but dad pointed out that we were on a hill and it was impossible to have slid uphill! We eventually arrived and we sat down for dinner with aunty, uncle and cousins. A bottle of wine was open (something which only happened at Christmas) and it was pink – my uncle was horrified because he had mistakenly opened a really expensive bottle. He was horrified not out of any mean-spirited reason; he said the meal he had cooked wasn’t worthy of such a wonderful vintage. No doubt they all enjoyed it (my mum didn’t drink so more for the others!)
My parents were always very generous even though we weren’t that well-off; I remember different Christmases over the years when he would bring people home to share our special day. While he was working it may have been scientists from other countries who would have been on their own in their digs. Later there were a variety of people who were on their own – an elderly and awkward bachelor whose mother had recently died, a man whose wife had left him (again) and despite being apparently a popular and well-liked person, was on his own (maybe not as well-liked after all!) and others.
So Christmas Eve eve… and our plans… more tidying, cooking, sorting, wrapping, organising, maybe even a little shopping!!