The Ghost of Christmases Past

The tree is up and decorated, the presents bought, the cards written, the carols on the boil and I’m starting to feel a tiny bit like Christmas. That didn’t seem possible a week or two ago; I was feeling terribly gloomy and uninspired but it generally creeps in about the beginning of December. We’re not having any family get-togethers this year because of the pandemic, but will be zooming or skyping on the day. Food is coming together; we’ll be having the usual nut roast with sausages etc though probably a fairly pared-down version. Lunch will be eaten with the Aged P (a rather less benign version of Dickens’ character) and later we will hang out with the Son and possibly nephew with an assortment of snacks and dips. So that’s all good.

I guess every family has its Christmas rituals. We do generally watch the Queen just in case she says something this year, but also because watching the Queen is something we do every year. It’s easy to decry this type of ritual as empty and meaningless but it’s reassuring, particularly in dark times, to do the same things every year; it knits together the past and the present. Of course you can get stuck in ritual and become resistant to change; it shouldn’t take over your life, but I think it’s a mistake to dispense with it altogether. There’s something in our nature that requires it.

I’ve blogged before about Christmas when I was a child; the compulsory church, the oven lit and the turkey put inside at some ungodly hour, the vegetables prepared the day before, the glass of sherry before dinner, the huge oak-veneer table in the dining room brought out and a dozen chairs put round. We always hosted Christmas as no-one else had a house big enough and it was the only time we ever used the huge, dusty dining room as it was normally a repository for our mother’s embroidery projects. She did at one point have visions of turning it into some sort of salon – in the 18th-century sense, not in the hairdressing sense – and painted the walls turquoise with a gold frieze and even bought a turquoise chaise-longue to go in it – but that was as far as it got. As far as renovations went that vicarage was a hopeless cause and has now been reinvented as a block of flats. It’s a strange feeling to go round the drive and see a quartet of doorbells bristling in the porch where our one clanging bell used to sit; I always have the urge to ring every bell and tell people they’re squatting on my memories and should leave immediately.

The dining room had a hatch for serving food; when the house was built the kitchen would have been the repository for servants and the scullery a hell-hole of steam on wash days.

After lunch there was of course the washing-up, though thankfully most of it went in the dishwasher; then the grown-ups went for a rest while we hung around bored and speculating on what our presents would be. As children we got stocking presents in the morning (usually around 4 am) but had to wait until the afternoon for our main presents. This struck me as a cruel and unusual punishment, to be forced to hang around till everyone had finished napping and come downstairs and then give out presents one at a time – no frantic ripping of paper for us – in a ritualised manner. After the presents there would be tea and cake – Christmas cake, obvs – then (this never ceases to amuse me when I think about it) the adults would go upstairs to change into evening wear – a shirt and tie for the men, long skirts or dresses for the women – and we would play parlour games. Actually I quite enjoyed this part – we’d play charades or squeak, piggy squeak until it was time for supper. But – here’s the shocker – at no time did the TV go on during the whole of Christmas Day!

Now there’s cruel and unusual punishment.

There; I got completely diverted. But as far as Christmases go the past is definitely more interesting than the present.

Kirk out

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