Christmas memories

The history group meeting I attended last week involved thinking and talking about Christmas memories. As one of the youngest at the meeting, I bowed to the superior experiences of those who could remember back further, but I thought I’d put down one or two memories on here.

sriped socksWhen I was little my father was a part-time football referee – I think it was a voluntary thing. This meant that he possessed a pair of referee socks, which were long football socks with black and white hoops round them. I used to have one of these to hang up each Christmas Eve, and in the morning the sock would be laid on my bed, filled with goodies. Their length and size meant that presents were fairly inventive at times – I remember one year receiving a wooden pencil case, with a sliding lid and a swing open section. There were toys, of course, and nuts and chocolate and a satsuma in the toe. The edible goodies bore a strange resemblance to those on the side table that was laid out downstairs with goodies on it – not to be touched before Christmas, which led to constant enquiries as to when Christmas officially started.

I would find the stocking when I woke up, empty it to see what I’d got, then pack it again and take it in to my parents, where I would unpack it again to show them everything that I’d received – a habit that was continued even after I knew they already knew what was in it!

I shared a bedroom with my much older sister when I was young. I remember one year waking up slightly as she came to bed, and feeling her put something on the bed. Next morning when I woke up there were a couple of wrapped presents on there – my first hint that Santa wasn’t real. I remember feeling proud that I’d worked it out.

One memory of Christmas that my mother would rather forget is the year that she took me (aged around 5ish I guess) and my cousin (who was a couple of years younger) to see Father Christmas in the big Tesco’s in the town. He was upstairs in the home and toys section, and I remember she paid a magnificent 30p each for us to see him and collect a wrapped toy. My cousin insisted on opening his then and there, to reveal a set of small plastic guns, action-man style. On the way out of the store, Mother spotted the exact same set of toys in a basket. She picked one up to look at it and compare it to his. “27p,” she said. “They charge you 3p just to wrap it.” She replaced it in the basket and my cousin’s toy in her big shopping bag (she always carried a huge shopping bag around) and we went past the checkouts and downstairs. We had just reached the exit when she felt a hand on her shoulder. “Excuse me, madam, I have reason to believe there are goods in your bag that you haven’t paid for.” A shop assistant had seen her looking at the toys and putting one in her bag, and had reported it.

In my memory it was me who realised what had happened, and we explained, and Mother showed him the torn wrapping paper still in her bag. The store detective accepted the explanation and quite happily let us go, but Mother refused to go in there for a long time after that!

My birthday is the day after Christmas, and so always feels overshadowed. When I was little I started making a fuss if anyone gave me a combined present instead of two separate presents, and to this day I get upset if birthday presents are wrapped in Christmas paper. I do remember one combined present that went down well though, a doll I received from an aunt, called Tippy Tumbles. She had a cable coming out from her tummy to a remote control – when operated, she would turn somersaults.

As I grew up, my sister married and moved away, and from then on Christmas was usually associated with my sister and brother-in-law – and later their children – coming round for presents and Christmas dinner. They had to divide their time between his parents and hers, and did an admirable job of it, until they decided it was easier to come down before and spend the actual day at home in peace.

When my husband and I moved into our house, I became the Christmas cook, so have been cooking Christmas dinner for over twenty years. I’ve never had Christmas day anywhere but in my own home. Usually we’ve had relatives round for dinner as well – there have only been a couple of times at the most when it was just us and no-one else.

The first year we were in our own house we bought a Christmas tree that was slightly too big for the room, and spent our evenings sitting by the coal fire, with a pot of tea in the hearth keeping warm. And roast chestnuts, of course – the only thing I really miss about the fireplace we no longer use.

A more recent Christmas memory that is recalled with amusement by all who observed it is that of my mother and the Christmas chocolates – a couple of weeks before Christmas she gave me a couple of wrapped presents, plus an unwrapped tin of chocolates – Roses or similar. We started eating them as we wrapped presents up, and were grateful for the energy boost they provided. Mother was here for Christmas day, and asked for a chocolate. She was shocked to discover the tin already nearly empty, and said as much several times throughout the rest of the day. Apparently were weren’t supposed to start them until Christmas – which once again brings us to the question: When does Christmas officially start?

For me, it starts at the point we decide there’s no more going out and getting extras or forgotten items, usually around 5pm on Christmas Eve. The point when there’s no more buying things and all that’s left is to eat them. The shops are only closed for the one day, these days, of course, but there’s still a feeling that we want to hold out as long as possible before getting back to the routine of shopping again.

But still, we usually make a point of buying at least one tin of chocolates in the run up to Christmas, opening them early and making sure they’re mostly gone by Christmas day – in memory of Mother. And I can never cook Christmas dinner without thinking fondly of my father standing behind me and watching while I check on the sprouts, and then disappearing outside for a cigarette before dinner is ready, or of the years that he had his own separate pork roast because he didn’t like turkey – until eventually he caved in and admitted that it wasn’t that bad and he could eat the same as the rest of us instead of needing a different type of meat.

And tell me – does anyone actually finish their jar of cranberry jelly, or am I the only one who throws the old, mostly full  jar away each December and replaces it with a new one? Not to mention the jar of pickled onions…

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