ROLLING back the YEARS…
Christmas is a time for remembering and reliving favourite family memories
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