Well, I could hardly leave my ill-tempered denunciation of the Military Wives as my last pre-festive post, could I? So here’s something a bit more appropriate: an appreciation of Christmas. Yes, I know I’m usually whinging on about something or other on this blog, but at this time of year, I like to take off my grumpy hat and don a silly paper one instead.
The fact is, I love Christmas. And like most people, my idea of A Proper Christmas was shaped when I was a kid. I remember it all in detail, and with great warmth.
Every year, I’d wake up first. I’d manage to lie still for, ooh, thirty seconds or so, and then I’d run to the door, where I’d see the image that still defines Christmas for me. Hanging from a thin golden ribbon on my door handle would be a long cream-coloured football sock that had once belonged to my dad. It was crammed full of gifts, always with an apple at the bottom (swiftly returned to the fruit bowl and ignored), a couple of pound coins in the toe (rapidly trousered) and a cracker poking from the top. The most thrilling sound I have ever heard was the noise, late on Christmas Eve when I should have been asleep, of
my mum Santa furtively scrabbling to hang the stocking from my door handle. I know that these days, kids have proper Christmas stockings, bought from shops and trimmed with fur and tinsel. But If I live to be a hundred, I will never see anything more festive than that holey old football sock, bulging with fabulous shapes.
I’d drag my stocking through to my brother’s room, where I’d pogo from wall to wall, almost speechless with excitement, while he, sometimes forcibly, prevented me from waking my parents until an hour that could reasonably be called morning. As soon as I was allowed, I’d dart into their room, and then we began the ritual. My brother and I would career down the stairs, where the second most miraculous sight of Christmas awaited us: the tree, standing guard over a gleaming abundance of presents, spilling out from beneath the branches.
We’d both select one present for each member of the family and take them back upstairs. Not until all of those gifts had been opened, handed round and discussed would we return downstairs to gather another round. In this way, opening presents could be stretched out for hours, as my parents sipped coffee and my dad fetched screwdrivers to assemble that year’s more complicated gifts.
Since then, I have stood at the top of the Empire State Building, bathed in Iceland’s Blue Lagoon and seen Mount Fuji with my own eyes. I’ve spent many wonderful days and nights with much-loved friends and family. But nothing will ever surpass those cosy Christmas mornings of my childhood, contentedly disappearing into a sea of wrapping paper as I sat on a bed with the people I loved most in the world.
Today, there are only three people left from our family of four, and one is many thousands of miles away. We couldn’t recreate those days now, even if we tried. But when I think about Christmas, it will forever be those long happy mornings that will come to mind.
I know that this Christmas will be lovely. I will be spending it with close family, my partner and my much-adored cats, and I will cherish every moment. But a tiny part of me will be thirty miles and more than thirty years away, back on that double bed with an old football sock, an abandoned apple and a room full of joy.
Merry Christmas, everyone.