Monday, 6 December 2010

Christmas past, Christmas present

Once upon a time, there was a young mother who believed in the magic and wonder of Christmas. Each year she set about the tasks of shopping and cooking, making and decorating; convinced that if she only tried hard enough she could create the perfect day.

As the glitter frosted windows of the advent calendar were opened, she spent the days of December assembling the chocolate coins, tubes of sweets, pencils and socks; all those long thin objects that would fit in a Christmas stocking. She helped the children write their letters to Santa, lifted them up to reach the letter box, made sure they didn't find the shiny-wrapped gifts hidden under her bed.

As the big day drew nearer, she went in search of the tree, just the right height and width, non-dropping needles and a tall spike at the top for the fairy. She tested the lights, replaced the fuse-bulbs where necessary, then carefully, one by one, placed the fragile glass baubles and home-made paper lanterns. She searched out the pine cones they'd collected in summer, then tied them with scarlet ribbon to the green garlands draped around the fireplace. Her evenings slipped past in writing cards, shaping and painting marzipan fruits, finishing hand-knitted jumpers.

Almost before she realised, it was Christmas Eve, with its own special schedule. A carol service at church; walking there in the cold with excited children pulling her along. Coming home to baths and hair-washes; there'd be no time for those on Christmas Day. Putting the girls' hair in rags to curl them, keeping an eye on the boys to stop them eating all the chocolates on the tree.

And then it was bedtime. There were no difficulties in getting any of them to bed on Christmas Eve - the sooner they went, the sooner Santa would come. But before they could go up the stairs there was the sherry and mince pie to put out for Father Christmas, the saucer of milk and carrots for the reindeers. Then the song they'd all sing -

Christmas time is here
so we go to bed.
As we climb the stairs
nodding sleepy heads.
Take our stockings off
hang them in a row
then jump quickly into bed
and off to sleep we go...

But then came the years when the Christmas sparkle faded, when they didn't live in the lovely house any more, when the choices had to include decisions about spending the day with Mummy or Daddy. Two sets of presents didn't make up for the things that were missing. Pleasure offset by guilt and regret.

Year after year of not-quite-right Christmases followed.

Last weekend, the not-so-young mother went shopping with her best friend and her youngest daughter. They chose jumpers for the boys, looked at boots and leather jackets, checked out different types of make-up, bought new fairy lights for the tree.

At the bookshop they spent ages looking through the children's section. She found the books she'd loved as a child, Pippi Longstocking and the Chronicles of Narnia. She re-lived the times she'd shared stories with her own children, their laughter over Peepo and Each-Peach-Pear-Plum. She carefully selected the first books she would read to her grandson on his first ever Christmas.

When lunchtime came, they stopped at a new restaurant. They sat on soft leather seats while they waited for their steaming mugs of chocolate. They looked around at the light fittings made of tea-cups, at the velvet patchwork sofas, the cake-stands piled high with dainty treats. She noticed the excited, smiling  faces of children and adults alike;  she couldn't help but smile back.

It was still early in December, but it felt almost as though they were finding a new tradition.

Maybe a perfect Christmas wasn't quite so far away.


Baglady said...

Lovely. I hope your new traditions get the cockles of your heart just as warm as the old ones did.

Especially loving those tea cup lamps BTW

Happy Frog and I said...

I loved this post. I was starting to worry that I was getting a bit jaded about Christmas this year which is completely unlike me, but things have happened over the last few days which have got me back into the spirit of it. Lovely! :-)

caterpillar said...

Great story....

Miss Whistle said...

Love this.

Liz said...

Nice, Sharon. Merry Christmas.

Starlight said...

Very well written, I loved it! I'm nut such a Christmas person (not that I don't like it, but it's not so important for me) but this story really touched me. Lovely!

Sensible Footwear said...


Bth said...

I love this, Sharon. My mother used to do just this. But you're right, traditions evolve as we do. Things don't always stay the same. Beautifully written!

Helle Kristine Tumbridge said...

I adore Christmas, not because I believe in the story, but because I love the magic, warmth, and gathering of people. This piece was great because it rings true, the Christmas experience does change with time, and you just have to make new traditions and go with it.

Caroline said...

That's really nice - bits of everything in there. If I was to be hyper critical I would say watch your historical bits - hair wrapped in rags suggests pre-war but they wouldn't have had chocolates on the trees then! xx

DaliaElMaghraby. said...

You are more than amazing.
Seriously LOVE your work.

Pat said...

My heart goes out to all those young mothers trying to create the perfect Christmas. It only happens in fairy tales, but happy ones ARE possible on good day with a following wind. If one can only get them to understand the spirit of Christmas you're halfway there.

Sharon Longworth said...

Baglady - thank you. The tea-cup lamps are great aren't they?

Happy Frog - glad to see your christmas spirit is reviving!

Caterpillar - thank you :)

Miss Whistle - and thank you too :)

Sharon Longworth said...

Liz - thanks. I loved the pictures of chocolate filled shoes over at your blog - traditions are weird sometimes aren't they?

Starlight - really glad you liked it.

Sensible footwear - thank you :)

BTH - I agree, the trick is to keep hold of the good bits of traditions and try to develop some new ones at the same time.

Sharon Longworth said...

Helle - you summed it up so well there - magic, warmth and gathering of people - that's my wish for everyone this christmas.

Caroline - thank you for the positive comments and the constructive criticism. I did curl Claire's hair for christmas - usually with foam curlers, but sometimes we used rags instead - the old tricks still work.

Dalia - thank you for visiting the blog - and for leaving such a kind comment, much appreciated. I shall go have a look at yours now.

Pat - I love getting comments from you, as you always hit the nail on the head - thank you!

daveinhulme said...

Yeah, things change, don't they though?
You write beautifully.

Jane said...

Lovely, warm and true.
We are all sold the idea of the 'perfect' christmas - whatever that is -
the real one is about sharing, caring and creating our own traditions.
After reading this I'm thinking about getting the decorations out.

Dani'sfadingmargins said...

Beautiful...I can't wait to get home to my own family's Christmas traditions.
And by the way, a side bonus of this post was getting to see what is probably some differences between Christmas over there and in the states....Santa gets a lot of cookies over here and not a lot of mince pie.

Seré said...

I can so relate to this -- the Christmases with small children, then as a single mom, then in a blended family (we call it blenderized) and now with college kids returning...traditions always evolving into something slightly different, never quite perfect but somehow still meaningful. Beautifully written. Thank you.

Sharon Longworth said...

Dave - They certainly do, the trick is keeping up with all the change...
Thank you for your very kind comment on my writing.

Jane - Thank you. Hope you enjoy putting up the decorations!

Dani - hope you get home soon. It is good to see how Christmas is celebrated in different parts of the world. With all the cookies and mince pies, there's little wonder Santa's so fat.

Sere - thank you for your very kind comment and for introducing me to an entirely new way of describing my family - blenderized - love it!

Dan German said...

This is lovely, Sharon. xx

ps - I am hoping to bump into you and the family before xmas

pps - by 'bump into you' I mean come over to your house and get drunk. I probably didn't need to clarify that, did I? Oh well, see you soon.


Mr London Street said...

I loved this post. I think enjoying Christmas as an adult is one of the great challenges in life. Somewhere along the line you go from practically beating your parents' bedroom door down at five in the morning to sleeping off a hangover and thinking "those presents will still be there when I wake up". Splintered families can make that difficult too, but I totally agree that all traditions have to start somewhere. For me, nowadays, Christmas is on the way when we go out for our annual lunch with friends and drink prosecco and swap presents, or when Kelly first asks me if we can put Muppet Christmas Carol on.

Kristen said...

It was quite jolting when you introduced the divorce of the parents, but then I was glad that it ended on a happy note. I loved the beggining part and could totally relate to it. Great description!