Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Comfort and Joy?

16:54:00 Posted by Sheilagh Dyson , , , 1 comment

No doubt about it – Christmas starts earlier each year. No, not that one – not unsleeping capitalism’s brazen attempts to part us from our festive cash as early as August – I mean real Christmas, the one people create for themselves in their own homes. Mid-December used to be the signal for trees aloft, lights ablazing. In recent years this has defaulted to 1st December as the first decent time to decorate the house. This year it seemed as if people couldn’t wait that long to dispel the uncertainty, misery, anxiety of life that is the lot of so many and sparkly trees were quite commonplace as you walked the streets in mid-November.
It’s a very sad form of escapism, I think.  When reality is so cruel and awful, it’s very tempting to displace it by anticipating the brief (usually) interlude of Christmas. It’s a time when people are kinder to each other, smile more, seem a little more tolerant. Who wouldn’t want more of that and for a longer period? But, as it is such a special time, is there not a danger of dissipating its enjoyment and attraction by artificially prolonging it? The nature of escapism is that it provides a short-term escape from an unpalatable reality – but return to reality is inevitable. It might be better to fight to change the reality, rather than decking the halls with boughs of holly in November.
Apropos of nothing, really, here’s a piece I wrote about my childhood Christmases. On reflection, it is relevant as an instance of escapism.

The Most Magical Day of the Year

Every day of every year was the same, in hindsight. We were a poor family, like everyone we knew. There were no incidental treats at all, ever. There was hand to mouth living, waiting for payday, every week, every month, every year.

Except one day. Christmas Day.

With the considerable assistance of Provident checks, which had to be repaid over the whole of the following year, my parents somehow managed to transform our lives completely and utterly for one day of magic. I can never forget the excitement and anticipation of the run up to Christmas, which reached a crescendo on Christmas Eve. The kitchen, always full of good, tasty (but cheap) food to sustain the six of us, was groaning under the weight of the feast to come. Exciting things like mince pies had been appearing for a few days; tangerines tantalized; the smell of Christmas cakes in the oven for hours gave a hint of the glories to come; a huge turkey was resting in the larder; the clove-scented aroma of bread pudding pervaded the air; tins of sweets, Cheese Footballs and Twiglets were hidden away, to make a glorious appearance on Christmas morning; a bottle of Harveys Bristol Cream stood proudly in the larder, ready for the festivities to begin.

We four children were despatched to bed as soon as possible, for my poor exhausted parents to make the colossal preparations for the next day. Sleep was practically impossible because of the excited frenzy and was short-lived when it came. Whoever woke first edged nervously to the foot of their bed to check if He Had Been. Of course he had! Word travelled fast round our bedrooms and soon we were all up, my poor parents, who had only just gone to bed, swept along by an unstoppable tide of excitement.

Down we all went, dragging our bulging pillowcases behind us. The turkey had been left in the oven to cook overnight. The coal fire, the only source of heat in the entire house, had been banked up so that no-one had to light it on Christmas morning. And the living room soon was literally covered with wrapping paper as we ripped the covers off present after present after present. It is no exaggeration to say that we each received every single thing that we wanted, having carefully crafted long letters for Father Christmas in November, based on completely self-indulgent wish-lists. And for one day of the year, my parents were spared the misery of the hand to mouth existence they endured every other day as they basked in the delight they had created for their children.

I’ll never forget those Christmases. I can still see that room, filled with the sheer warmth and happiness of six people, enjoying together a piece of magic in their lives.

It didn’t even end the fateful year when I found out for myself that there was no Father Christmas. I was eleven and when I woke up to detect with blinking eyes the ethereal spectre of a bike at the foot of my bed, glittering in the darkness, I reasoned that Father Christmas couldn’t possibly have got down the chimney with that. Rationality triumphed over magic. I never told the others though.

Thank you for reading,


Steve Rowland said...

What a magical re-creation of the spirit of Christmas past... lovely to read. Thanks.