For most of us the two stand out days of the year are birthdays and Christmas and despite them both being very special events in our year I’m sure that I’m not alone in treating them both very differently. Most of us,me included,rely on our loved ones to organise our birthdays and arrange those special treats that identify one birthday from another, things like days out or maybe even a once in a lifetime experience and I for one always feel under pressure to come up with something different each time,trying to top all the previous years efforts. This may be down to the fact that in the past I have been totally unable to come up with anything memorable and certainly unable to come up with something that is difficult to emulate. When it comes to my birthday, with the exception of lamenting the passing of yet another year and feeling even older than before I never really feel any tradition or similarities which each one,meaning that all of them kind of stand out from each other. Christmas though is the exact opposite as it is all about tradition and doing the same things over and over again and I don’t think that i’m alone in that.I suspect that up and down the country families are going to be doing the same things as they have been doing year after year and that each families traditions have been handed down through the generations. Year after year people visit the same relatives at the same time and gather at the same houses, eat the same dinners, pull the same crackers, read the same crappy jokes and wear the same crappy hats.The queens speech comes on at the same time and despite its weekly slot having disappeared, top of the pops comes on seemingly without fail too. The tv slot straight after the Queen’s has always belonged to the big movie which when I was young always used to be the wizard of oz and at some point over the festive period it’s a nailed on certainty that the great escape will be on too. Perhaps the one similarity between the two is that for birthdays and Christmas’s its important to have a cake for the occasion and sing songs that you wouldn’t be seen dead singing at any other time of the year.
Now while Birthdays were great absolutely nothing compared to Christmas. One of the first Christmas’s that I can remember with clarity was during my first year at primary school when I was enlisted, much against my will, into the school choir and told that in just a few weeks time me and the others would be expected to perform in front of the entire school and our parents for 3 consecutive nights. From what I recall we were given about 6 carols to learn and I had to go home and ask my mum to make me a ‘wise man’ outfit and if it were possible could she knit me a beard as well. Being instantly petrified by the prospect of what would be my first public performance I went straight home, cried a lot and said I wasn’t going to do it and if I was made to I was going to run away from home. Eventually mum persuaded me that everything would be fine and that because I had an amazing singing voice ( she fibbed ) I would be the star of the show. Plus apparently she had already bought a load of wool and a pair of needles and my festive beard was going to be longer than doctor who’s scarf. I endured sleepless nights leading up the shows and didn’t really want to take part in rehearsals and eventually put my hand up and asked if it was absolutely necessary to take part,and if it was would it be ok if I stood at the back. Come the big day though things were different. We trooped onto the school stage and began singing and while I was standing there looking at all the smiling faces looking back at us singing along,a massive surge of confidence swept through me and I loved every minute of it and couldn’t wait for next few nights to come along so that I could do it all over again.
Just as the excitement from the school play had faded away along comes Christmas eve. There was something magical about opening window 24 on the advent calendar as it meant that Santa was finally going to be coming to town, me and my dad could go out and chose mums Christmas present and if we were lucky we could start opening the tin of roses. It was also the only night of the year that I can remember actually wanting to go to bed but when i got there i’d end up just laying there the with the light on unable to sleep through excitement. I used to put a pillow case at the end of the bed near my chest of drawers and a note was left for Santa on the top of it along with a glass of milk and a mince pie and I would stare at them almost willing santa to turn up so that I could see him but he never turned up while I was looking. I remember mum and dad going to bed and turning off the hall light was the signal that Santa wouldn’t be too long now and that I had to try my best to get to sleep or he may not come at all. Even after I had finally got off to sleep, albeit a very light one, I would wake up and look over to see a still empty pillow case and start to panic that maybe I was going to be forgotten this year and that despite an extreme effort being made over the last few days and weeks to be a good boy maybe santa did think I had been naughty after all. Sinking disappointedly back into my pillow resulted in yet another catnap before waking to find that finally, Santa had arrived. I think 2am was the very earliest that I ever woke up for Christmas morning and there are almost no words to describe just how amazing this moment was. There was the unbridled excitement,the overwhelming feeling of happiness and the astonishment that Santa had not only read my list but also gave me every single item I had asked him for. I remember getting the most amazing presents, not necessarily very expensive ones, but for example one year I got a jack-in-a-box that had me spellbound for ages and another year I got a magic set which was so good that I had made all the pieces disappear before breakfast. I saw it as my duty to go and wake my sister up and tell her that Santa had been and to see what she had got which always seemed to be far less interesting that what I had been given but then again it was girls stuff not proper boys stuff like the dandy annual, meccano or a slinky spring. With all the commotion that has been going on mum would have been woken up and far from telling us to go back to bed or just ignoring us she would come and get involved and join in with the fun. After sitting with us for what seemed like ages she would then encourage us to get back into bed and get some sleep before breakfast as it would undoubtedly would be a busy day but there was no chance of that happening as the excitement levels were too high.
I’ve seen Christmas through my own childlike eyes and also watched my own children have exactly the same experience as they were children too but now they are in their mid teens to early twenties I can see the magic change. It changes from the childlike innocence stage to wanting to go out with their mates drinking but the one thing that never changes is the excitement. They seem to know all the words to band aids ‘ do they know its christmas’ , slades ‘ I wish it could be christmas everyday’ and everybody of all ages would vote the Pogues ‘ fairy tail of New york’ as the best festive song ever. I once heard someone say that Bing Crosby and David Bowies white christmas was the best ever but personally speaking whenever it comes on I try and hold my breath long enough to pass out rather than hear it all. But also within our midst there are those who moan about the whole thing and proclaim to hate Christmas. Sure it’s hard work and of course it can be expensive and I’ll accept that it’s not everyone’s cup of tea but I seriously don’t see what there is to dislike about it. Like my experience at the school choir all those years ago, if only some of these people threw themselves into it rather than fighting it I’m sure that they would get more out of it. I would also like to see those wingers and moaners have a meeting with the parents of those children who were killed in Connecticut last week, who will never get to experience the same Christmases as I did and tell them that they hate Christmas. Everyone deserves a great christmas as it’s part of us, part of what makes us who we are and helps form our culture. We owe it to our children to give them the best possible time and magical christmas possible and continue to pass all of those traditions down the family line.
I’d like to wish you all the most amazing and magical Christmas.