Four little children scamper downstairs. The sun hasn’t yet risen and sleep is in everyone’s eyes. They tumble into the living room and see their Santa sacks, last night pinned in anticipation to the mantel piece, and now heavy-laden on the floor. Squeals and claps can be heard as they pull the stretchy material to locate their names, squirrelling their own off to a corner of the room. Their mother, every year, sews on a new picture that the children try to find. Material is pulled over the head, creating a world of reddish glow. It smells like Christmas in the Santa sack. Even in later years when they are all grown up, the children all agree that it still smells like Christmas, and stick their heads inside the sacks when the Christmas box comes out of the loft. They feel the presents, trying to locate the traditional ones (toothbrush, chocolate money) and wondering what the others could contain. No one opens a present. No one wants to spoil Christmas. They wait again, willing the adults to hurry up with the tea making and putting on of slippers and dressing gowns. The children feel no cold, they are too excited.
The senior generation, the Grandma and the Great Aunt, sit calmly, with their own Santa sacks upon their laps, smiling affectionately at the children, who can barely contain their excitement. The dog looks at the goings on, and the youngest child probably sits near to the dog. Eventually, finally, the parents enter and distribute the tea, and the major words of assent are spoken. Unwrapping ensues, delight abounds, and the children, who have never believed in Father Christmas, thank their parents for their gifts.
Breakfast, showering, getting ready for church commences, with intermittent playing and diving headfirst into the Santa sack to admire the presents, and of course the eating of chocolate money. Gold foil wrappers will be found for days. Church is an important part of the day for the family, while the lunch cooks away. On return the children play cards with their Grandma while the parents cook and organise in the kitchen. Chestnuts, cranberry sauce, pigs in blankets, bread sauce, and sprouts of course. The table veritably groans under the weight of food. One year, a brother brings out the extendable fork and stabs a roast potato from across the table and the family share laughter, as they do every year.
Under the tree are yet more presents, one for each member from each one of the others which will take all afternoon to dissect, one at a time. But before this pile is tackled, the washing up must be done, and more tea made. Everyone is stuffed. Later there will be cheese and crackers, despite the apparent fullness. One of the brothers puts on a Santa suit to distribute the presents. It is far too big and the prolapsing pillow causes much hilarity.
All the Christmases were like this. Sometimes there were more friends or family. Sometimes there were ‘only’ 8 people and a dog, then just people and no Pip, and then there was 7, and we missed Aunty Joyce. There was always a lot of card playing. There was always lots of laughter. There was always mulled wine after church before lunch. There was always cheese and crackers and an abundance of food.
Traditions transcended the years, until that is, I got married. A change in circumstance, however happy, changes the traditions as we know them. We make our own new traditions. The next few years involved dinner entertainment. One year kazoos, the next my in-laws and parents had been taking dance lessons and danced round the kitchen. There was an ‘unlucky’ dip to choose a post-lunch job, particularly unlucky for the under 25s. The in-laws became part of the Christmas furniture. There was somewhat inebriated Articulate…or inarticulate as it turned out to be.
Christmas traditions are those, I believe, that give the day some of it’s charm. You know what is coming, and you delightfully anticipate the next move. In the incredible wisdom of the Muppets, ‘it is the summer of the soul in December’, and my memories are that. They fan the flame of excitement for Christmas yet to come.
To me Christmas is being surrounded by people I love. It is my ‘summer of the soul’ in December. What makes this your summer of the soul?