Hands off my Christmas rituals!
Christmas, eh? Can’t live with it, can’t live without it. (Which is rubbish as millions can and do.)
But if you have grown up with certain Christmas rituals they can very hard to shed, even when you have reached a stage when no one would care if you spent the whole day in bed watching box sets with a bottle of sherry and several tubes of Pringles (a sporadic fantasy of mine).
Bear with me now as I move into sepia-tinged Hovis mode here and recall the quaint customs of a Home Counties Christmas of yore with my grandparents:
- Stockings, of course, complete with tangerine in the toe and nuts. But my grandmother was sometimes foolish enough to include a couple of carol sheets, so the adults were woken far too early by the unpleasant piping of childish voices.
- More little presents on the breakfast table — was this our grandmother trying to make it up to the adults for 1. above?
- Church — we didn’t mind it because we got to sing carols again, this time with no attempt at volume control, and our grandfather was a lay reader and looked very impressive in his cassock , reading the lessons in a sonorous voice.
- Lunch was turkey and the works, as you’d expect, with my grandmother hastily shoving sixpences onto everyone’s pudding plates, as all must have prizes. At 3 p.m. there was the Queen’s Speech (preceded by the tail end of Christmas Top of the Pops if we were lucky).
- Only after HM had spoken could we open our main presents. And of course we had no truck with this having-your-own-pile-of-presents-next-to-you-and-working-your-way-through-them-silently malarkey. Every present had to be retrieved from under the tree by the youngest member of the family who could read, announced as if it were a guest at an embassy party, delivered, and then the entire gathering watched the recipient open it. I can’t stress enough the importance of knowing how to compose your features at this point . . .
- We usually had Christmas cake, mince pies and an elderly neighbour for tea.
So you see, there is no way I could ever have married a man who didn’t share my deep-seated conviction that it’s actually a sin to open your main presents in the morning. I’m happy to report that Mr Verity is a man of firm principle in these matters.
And what of Father Christmas? I can’t remember a time when I actually believed in him. The way our mother logged who had given us what as we unwrapped our presents so that we could write thank-you letters (salutation + thanks for named present and comment on its attractive properties + paragraph of pleasantries/commentary on current festive season in general + renewed thanks for present + sign-off—just call me Mme de Sévigny) made it clear that we only came by Christmas presents through the good offices of our relatives. And with the stockings, I was always far too excited to sleep and knew full well who deposited them at the end of the bed.
We have of course moved with the times and created our own rituals, though encouraging adult offspring to abandon their stockings is proving problematic. Christmas now involves a lot more wine and a lot less church than it used to, but afternoon presents, distributed according to strict protocol, remain non-negotiable.