Tuesday, December 15, 2009


"So how does this Christmas thing work then?" Thus Susan to me this morning. Her family has no Christmas traditions of its own, and she's anxious to help make sure it meets my expectations. Bless her.

"Well, you wake up early. Not too early, but it's still dark. Then you check out the sock you hung up at the foot of your bed, you take out the things one by one. There's nothing very exciting in there, usually, but it's Christmas and you're a kid so everything is good. There's no whistle or anything to make that much noise, because my parents aren't complete idiots, but all the same you try to keep it down. But still you're excited, and you might sneak downstairs to look under the tree and see all the presents there and wonder which ones are yours, even though your parents have absolutely forbidden that.

"Other people get up and you start asking about the other presents, but nobody's going to get those until after everyone is washed, dressed and breakfasted, and that takes a long time because your brothers don't have the same sense of urgency as you do. The eldest, in particular, is a lazy bugger who's also as bloody-minded as Jack the Ripper, and you know if you try to speed him up he'll go slower on purpose.

"About the only thing that ever worked was telling him that Christmas dinner was almost ready. But even that only worked once.

"Eventually you're allowed into the living room, you gather round the tree, and your dad sits at the foot of the tree and reaches for the packages, one by one, and throws or slides or passes them to whoever they're addressed to. Sometimes there's a little show of rattling or weighing or sniffing or some other sort of diagnosis, but not much, because your dad mostly wants to get it over with. You unwrap each present as you get it, and some of them are really cool. Your parents remind you to thank people, and then you're left to your own devices to play until dinner."

"You mean lunch."

"It's called dinner. There's a colossal amount of food, I've told you about it all before, it takes two hours or more to get through it and probably two-thirds of the food is left over. Eventually the table gets cleared, the washing up gets done - you have to help with the drying - and your mother gets out her inevitable 1000-piece Christmas jigsaw and starts sorting out the straight-edge pieces, which means the dining table is now occupied for the next two days, but that's okay because it'll be that long before you're hungry again anyway. Until about nine o'clock at night, when it's time for tea and Christmas cake."

I stopped. I'd got quite caught up in my account, but there's something in Susan's eye that expresses roughly equal parts amusement and frustration.

"I should have asked your mother," she sighs.


Anonymous said...

You great fibber!

Yes, it was exciting, up to a certain age. But it was never half as funny as you tell it!

Shane Curcuru said...

Wait - is bahumbug suggesting this isn't the full story?

This sounds remarkably familiar, except for the jigsaw which isn't a thing in our family. I had three wake-up times:

- the time I was allowed to open my bedroom door and look down the hall at the tree,

- the time I was allowed to wake up my mother, who would take me downstairs, and drink her coffee as we looked at the tree, and

- the time the two of us were allowed to wake everyone else up.

Love the last bit.

Niq, yes, it is funny, but not as much as to someone who's lived that particular family holiday.

vet said...

It's maybe not 100% verifiable... I'm a great believer in the essential subjectivity of history. And you'll note I make it clear right from the start, this is a very subjective account.

It is, essentially, how I remember it. Yes, it contains elements from many different Christmases that may never have coexisted precisely as described (although I think every element mentioned probably occurred at least three or four times), but why does that matter? It's still my 'expectation'.

Cian said...

Great account of Christmas past! I feel really lucky to have similar memories (although as kids we did not wake early, and it was a free for all when opening presents).

In many respects I would rather not be a child today. When I ask my nephews what they are getting from Santa I get a list of items ranging from moderately expensive to rather expensive. And do you know what they will get all of those.

I remember asking Santa for a couple of items and always a surprize. Sometimes I did not get everything I wished for and you always got clothes (which you were expected to wear that day too). There was real excitement in the build up to Christmas not really knowing what you would get. Nowadays kids seem to know exactly what they will be getting - where is the raw excitement in that? I do not see it in their eyes.

Nodressrehearsal said...

It all sounds very plausible to me, vet.

The boys and I used to sit at the top of the stairs while hubby went down, lit the tree, put on the holiday music, and checked to see... "Yep, he's been here!" was the signal that we could all come downstairs.

At ages 24 and 19, they're too old to do that anymore, but Santa still brings presents to mix in among those from us under the tree. And Santa still fills their stockings, too.

Di said...

Reads kiwi to me. I can verify most of that happening to me down there in Mosgiel, next to Dunedin.

Meanwhile, here I am in Belgium, trying to train them.