This weekend we hung up our advent calendar and filled it with chocolates for the kids. Although they are now both 14 and 18 it still feels right to keep this tradition going. It is also the appropriate time of the year to do so……..! Pretty obvious you may say as it is now December! What I mean, is it’s not the middle of September; my first sighting of Christmas goodies being displayed. Each year it seems to get earlier and earlier, so by the time we get to Christmas day the shine has worn off and you are all Christmased out. The shops bombard us with chintz, from ‘the discrete and tasteful’ to the ‘way over the top’ cheap and tatty! Every store playing cheesy Christmas tunes so by the time you get home your ears have had a real battering. On hearing Slade’s Oh I wish it could be Christmas every d-a-y, I groaned out loud with a helping of eye rolling. Surely we should hold off on the festivities until at least the end of November when it begins to feel like Christmas. It is about sharing a day with our family and friends, eating like lords and ladies, reading the Broons/Oor Wullie and watching old movies on the TV. It has become so commercial that it is a shopper’s nightmare to even contemplate tackling the stores on a Saturday or a Sunday now. I remember a time when all the stores closed on a Sunday, and that was not too long ago, so if you didn’t have it in you did without or waited until the next day! Crikey, could you imagine that now?
It was so much easier when the kids were younger too. We would head off to a well-known children’s toy store and spend a few hours spying on them from a safe distance cataloguing their choice as they savoured the incredible sights and sounds of mountains of toys. Later one of us would return and purchase said delights. It’s amazing to think that ‘getting it right’ would have such an impact on your children’s day. We are no doubt all guilty of making purchases to keep the peace or make them happy, even if it was more expensive than we had hoped to pay. My father queued for hours and hours to ensure that his grand-daughter got the latest Telly Tubby toy or that our youngest got the latest remote controlled car. It never ceased to amaze them that ‘Santa’ had read their letter and had managed to process their requests. I often got really angry at Santa; did he traipse round busy crowded stores for hours in search of a certain item? Sat for hours on end wrapping presents into the wee small hours once the kids were in bed? The name ‘Santa’ being said over and over again as they recounted the incredible gifts that he had so lovingly placed beneath the tree – which had taken hours to set up and then hours later to find a set of lights that worked! Oh no, ‘Santa’ is no flippin’ where to be seen. He just turns up on Christmas Eve, when we are so exhausted and does his thang! I challenged our kids to not believe in Santa this year and see if there was anything under the tree. Think I may have run with that one a bit too long.
I have spent every Christmas at my parents. Even when we lived abroad we made sure we were home for the festive season. This year there will be only a few of us and I made the stupid suggestion to have it at ours! “AB-SO-LU-TE-LY NOT!” Our youngest was appalled at the thought of spending Christmas anyway other than at their nonna and nonno’s house. “It’s tradition – and that’s the way it is!”
Strange to some, however, the smell of paint and mandarins remind me of Christmases of old, as each year a family friend would deliver a large box of mandarins as a gift. Mum would haul out the step ladders and would paint the big lounge in preparation for the festivities and hoards of guests that would arrive. Mum would dress two large trees, one in the hall as you entered and one in the lounge, the room was bedecked in lights and decorations and the tables filled with bowls of chocolates, nuts and crispelle which is an Italian crispy ribbon of fried pasta dough sprinkled in sugar. Mum would spend hours and hours in the kitchen preparing for our five course meal the following day and then again for my grandparents, aunts and cousins later in the evening. (The night before my father would have stood for hours making fresh pasta at the table covered in flour rolling it out as one of us stood and turned the handle of the pasta maker. There would be the amazing smell of fresh pasta sauce and all sorts of other smells emanating from the kitchen with a wee glass of homemade wine as a treat.)
The next morning we would open our presents with a wee glass of bucks fizz (more orange than fizz) and a plate of panatonne – fruity bread lightly spread with butter. We would then get ready for church where we would look forward to the end as we would always get a chocolate from the priest. It was lovely standing at the back of the church chatting with friends and swapping stories of what we’d got from Santa. We would then visit a friend of the family who had an ice cream factory and we would be allowed to dip our fingers in the huge vats of creamy milk being churned into ice cream. Back to the house for a never-ending meal, which consisted of anti pasta, soup, homemade pasta, turkey and it’s trimmings and then an ice cream cassata cake. We would then waddle through to the lounge to play with our toys and watch The Wizard of Oz and then The Sound of Music until the crowd descended on us.
I remember late one night creeping down the stairs, catching mum and dad as they placed my brother’s action man, tank and my doll’s house under the tree. My mum screamed at being caught and I was promptly sent packing back to bed, secretly smiling at the knowledge of what treats lay ahead the next day. Or the time we came back from church and mum had placed arrows round the house with directions that led to a new snooker table. How she had managed to hide that from us all is still a mystery.
Christmas night was loud and busy, filled with relations who inevitably ended with a sing-song round the piano; no one could play the thing correctly however no one seemed to mind. My darling grandmother gave me a five year diary each year and never cottoned on that I had a drawer full of them! Thinking back it must have taken weeks of preparation for my parents who must have been exhausted by the end of the festivities.
When the children were small, to try and fool them my father would carefully open his cracker and slip a £20 note into when no-one was looking. As he pretended to be shocked and surprised at his booty it never failed to puzzle them that they didn’t have the same prize. One particular year, thinking he was being really clever, he put a fifty pound note in his cracker and headed off to relax before dinner chuckling away to himself. My mother being one step ahead of him, sneaked out the money and placed it in her cracker. It was a joy to watch my father’s expression as he searched and searched for his money that of course was no longer in his cracker, and the look of horror as my mum yelled “Look at what I got!!” We still laugh at that. Sadly he is no longer with us but each year we recount the tale whenever we go through the cracker ceremony.
So we will pack up the car, and head off up the road to mum’s to spend the day eating and drinking, watching TV and playing on the Wii…… and so the tradition continues.