"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.