ROLLING back the YEARS…

Christ­mas is a time for re­mem­ber­ing and re­liv­ing favourite fam­ily mem­o­ries

Woman & Home - - Memoir -

Deb­bie John­son’s chil­dren are all grown up now – but that doesn’t mean she’s chang­ing a thing about Christ­mas… When he was lit­tle – per­haps four – my son was so con­vinced of the ex­is­tence of santa, in all his mag­i­cal glory, that he asked for a whale. yes, a whale – although he wasn’t fussy about the colour, to be fair. I asked gen­tly where the whale might live, in our three-bed ter­raced house in a liver­pool sub­urb, and he ex­plained that the whale would live in the wa­ter pipes. silly me.

luck­ily, by the time we wrote our ac­tual let­ter to santa, he’d changed his mind, and opted for a thomas the tank En­gine tent in­stead.

a few years af­ter that, he hit me with a ques­tion that I knew marked the be­gin­ning of the end for the big man in the red suit: “Mum, why does santa use the same wrap­ping pa­per as us?” as I came up with an ob­vi­ously un­con­vinc­ing an­swer, I could see him look­ing at me from the cor­ner of his eye, the sus­pi­cions start­ing to form that maybe – just maybe – this whole Fa­ther Christ­mas lark might be a big fat lie.

of course, I dragged it out for as long as pos­si­ble, es­pe­cially when the younger kids came along. and why wouldn’t I? there comes a point in a par­ent’s fes­tive life cy­cle where the whole sneak­ing around at night, hid­ing the gifts and shak­ing sleigh bells out­side bed­room doors is more for us than it is for our chil­dren any­way.

My youngest is now 11, and Whale boy is 21 and off at univer­sity. they hu­moured me for as long as pos­si­ble, but now I have to face it – for the first year ever, we live in an of­fi­cially santa be­lief Free Zone. In some ways, it makes life eas­ier

– I don’t need to come up with imag­i­na­tive cam­ou­flage tech­niques, or pre­tend to post their Christ­mas lists.

and in­stead of ask­ing for whales, re­al­life Poké­mon, pink ponies and a >>

“Mum, why does santa use the same wrap­ping pa­per as us?”

“I knew it marked the end for the big man in the red suit”

rain­bow (all of which would be tricky to wrap), they ask for phones, video games, books and cash. the youngest throws in some syl­va­nian Fam­i­lies, I think just out of sym­pa­thy for me, but on the whole, Christ­mas is now more like a busi­ness trans­ac­tion than a mys­te­ri­ous sur­prise.

there’s no need for me to wait un­til they’re asleep, then sneak down­stairs on my tippy-toes, swag bags over my shoul­der. there’s no need to ar­range the gifts in an art­ful pile, or to leave out bai­leys and bis­cuits for santa and his rein­deer, or to chant ho-ho-ho in a deep voice at mid­night. there’s no

veron­ica Henry had never re­ally ex­pe­ri­enced a tra­di­tional Christ­mas – un­til one very spe­cial year… We moved every two years or so when my fa­ther was in the army. It is dif­fi­cult to build up fam­ily tra­di­tions when you have a some­what no­madic life. you are with dif­fer­ent peo­ple each Christ­mas, and the house you live in doesn’t be­long to you. you do learn how to make new friends eas­ily, and there is still lots of fun to be had, but Christ­mas al­ways felt slightly bor­rowed, as we con­stantly rein­vented it.

When my fa­ther re­tired from the army in 1977, we bought our own house, in a leafy lane out­side a mar­ket town in berk­shire. It was with glee that we re­alised we had a home of our own at last; some­where we be­longed, where we could start to build our very own Christ­mas. My need for us to get up at the crack of dawn and creep into the liv­ing room, ex­claim­ing joy­ously that, “He’s been, he’s been!” but you know what? these tra­di­tions aren’t about need. they’re about fun, and joy, and shar­ing in the plea­sures of fam­ily life; they’re about cel­e­brat­ing each other, and our good for­tune, and cre­at­ing that sense of warmth and sat­is­fac­tion that a re­ally good Christ­mas morn­ing with your chil­dren gives you. It’s a bit like the emo­tional ver­sion of Christ­mas din­ner, isn’t it? you gorge and feast on the ex­cite­ment and hap­pi­ness, and re­main brother and I could hang stock­ings by the fire­place (even though, at 11 and

14, we were prob­a­bly a lit­tle too old). and we knew that who­ever we saw over the fes­tive sea­son would prob­a­bly still be there the next year, and the year af­ter that. to cel­e­brate, my par­ents de­cided to throw a drinks party. It seemed the quick­est way for us to in­te­grate our­selves into the neigh­bour­hood. My fa­ther, be­ing of Ir­ish de­scent, con­cocted lethal cock­tails from brandy-soaked sugar cubes topped up with Cham­pagne, while my mother dec­o­rated the house to look like it was from a mag­a­zine. It was a nerve-rack­ing wait – would any­one turn up? and if they did, would they stay? We needn’t have wor­ried, for who doesn’t love the chance for a nose in­side the new­com­ers’ house? From six o’clock on­wards the vis­i­tors swarmed in. they might have in­tended to only stay for one drink, but the party was a big suc­cess and we all tot­tered down to mid­night Mass to­gether, sway­ing slightly in the pews as we sang. feel­ing full for many hours af­ter­wards.

so this year, I might not need to do any of those things. but guess what?

I’ll still be sneak­ing down­stairs with my swag bag. I’ll still be ar­rang­ing the gifts, and I’ll def­i­nitely still be leav­ing out the bai­leys and bis­cuits (Mum’s lit­tle treat).

the dif­fer­ence this year might be that it’s me get­ting up at the crack of dawn, bang­ing on their bed­room doors and shout­ing, in a Noddy Holder-style voice: “Get up! It’s Chri­i­i­i­i­i­i­ist­mas!”

✢ Deb­bie’s novel, a Gift from the Com­fort Food Café (HarperCollins, £7.99), is out now over the years our Christ­mas Eve drinks be­came some­thing of a tra­di­tion. but as my brother and I left home, the tra­di­tion faded. Now, my brother lives in aus­tralia and my fa­ther very sadly died three years ago. but if I close my eyes tight on Christ­mas Eve, I can still hear the hub­bub and the laugh­ter, taste the Cham­pagne, and smell the fire.

✢ Veron­ica’s novel, Christ­mas at the

beach Hut (Orion, £7.99), is out now w&h

“We had a home of our own at last – some­where we be­longed” “Christ­mas al­ways felt slightly bor­rowed, as we con­stantly rein­vented it”

The magic of dis­cov­er­ing Santa’s been

Veron­ica’s dad pre­par­ing for Christ­mas

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