Friday, 5 December 2014

The Ghosts of Christmas, Past and Present


Love it or loathe it, Christmas cannot be avoided in this part of the world, and I do love it, much as I dislike ongoing Christmas creep.  I know retailers need to profit from the orgy of spending we embark upon every midwinter, but I refuse to have much to do with Christmas until the beginning of December.  From then on, however, I embrace it enthusiastically.  The special excitement and anticipation I treasure from my own childhood has never deserted me and we all need to nurture our inner child.  I would always celebrate Christmas even if I didn't have a family but I know I am lucky to be part of a large combined family and there is always a lot of love around at Christmas.

As a child growing up as part of a large Irish Catholic family (now scattered to the four winds) on the outskirts of a large city in the North of England, Christmas was very much a time for church and family and with numerous aunts and uncles and 18 first cousins all living in the same city there was so much fun to be had just spending time together.   I'm sure there were tensions amongst the adults (I know there were tensions amongst the adults - my own parents, shockingly, separated and divorced; the family rift never healed), but we children had a wonderful time and no doubt drove our parents to drink.  Well, as I said, we were Irish.


I have strong memories of cold houses with ice patterns blooming on the inside of the window panes, our breath misting in the bedrooms as we dressed hastily in the mornings, the small, artificial Christmas tree being brought down lovingly from the attic to the sitting room on Christmas Eve and festooned with ancient baubles, the same ones every year, and a string of coloured Christmas lights with a fairy on top - there was always fierce competition to be the one who put the fairy on top.  I remember being woken from a deep sleep at 11 o'clock at night, bundling up into warm clothes, then the long freezing walk to church for Midnight Mass through the clear, frosty, starlit night, cold red chapped knees and rosy cheeks glowing, then back to bed longing to wake up to the weight of the freshly-filled stocking, stuffed with fruit and nuts, chocolate money and tiny treats lying across my feet, and just one very special, much-longed for new toy.  


At eight years old, I was actually secretly disappointed to be given this gorgeous book which I now treasure and will pass on to my grandchildren... 



  
... but I was thrilled to find this baby doll at the end of my bed one year (she had more hair then) and  I wish I could remember what I called her all those years ago.  But what I really, really wanted for Christmas was a kitten and that I couldn't have, my father being allergic, or so he said.  Of course, ever since I have collected cats and currently have three sharing my life and scratching the furniture, part of my animal family, and books and children have continued to be a huge part of my life.


Now my partner and I have a big combined family of seven young adults, many with partners of their own and one living in another country with his small daughter and Christmas has evolved to accommodate our new circumstances.  We no longer focus on Christmas day as, with so many families in the mix, we all need to be flexible and we would hate the children to feel they have to come, so we just try to spend time with as many of our children as we can reasonably see in the run-up to Christmas and spread the pleasure of a big family Christmas.  It works for us.


25 comments:

  1. Marianne, thank you for a lovely blog. Like you, I'm not too keen on Christmas bling and decorations in October and the commercialism, but I do love Christmas. Our family drop by in the run up and just after Christmas which is lovely. Christmas Day, we just spend with each other and I wouldn't want it any other way.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sounds very relaxed and very like our own Christmas Day Molly, although we will have one of the kids here on the day this year. It's just good to spend time with people in a really easy way and we are starting next weekend with family staying.

      Delete
  2. Not a fan of commercialism, Christmas arrives for me in December. Quiet Christmas with just the two of us....hopefully! Being in touch with people all year round is more important to me.
    I do remember those icy patterns on the windows, and loved them! x

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, the ice was lovely, but I am relieved to live in a warm house now - we were tougher then Suzy and you are so right about taking time to spend with friends and family all year round.

      Delete
  3. I find Christmas an interesting time. When I was a child it was very like yours and part of me still sees it in that simple way but divorce, remarriage and the loss of my mother have made Christmas a more complicated issue than it was. It works for me if I ignore all the commericialism, focus on good food with family and simplicity. It also works best with plenty of walking and outside time to balance the good food!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm completely with you on all of this Elizabeth. Christmas does become more complicated as time and life events make their mark, but it's good to focus on the simple things and make it work whatever life is chucking at us. Walks are one of the big pluses!

      Delete
  4. I love Christmas and treasure the family moments since having a family of my own. Having not very much (good) memories as a child makes it even more special. Love to read your Christmas memories that resembles my feelings as a child how Christmas should have been.... This year we will spend at least one day with the whole family gathered around the table!
    Have a lovely Christmas, Anita xx

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. There have been some really difficult Christmases since, Anita, but I am trying to focus here on the happy memories before life became more complicated, a time of relative security and stability. I'm so glad you are creating good memories for your own family and wish you a lovely Christmas too xx

      Delete
  5. Your old treasures are wonderful. Spending time with those we love is the highlight of the season for us. I try not to get to involved in the commercialism.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think these are all that have survived the frequent culls, Barb, and I do agree about spending time with those we love. I love to decorate the house too and have a large collection of Christmas stuff lurking in boxes. Getting excited again!

      Delete
  6. It's lovely to have some of your books and toys to pass on to grandchildren. I can relate to some of your memories of Christmases in your childhood; decorating the tiny artificial tree from the loft (making paper chains and other home made decorations). I was an only child living with my chapel-going parents and an assortment of adults in my grandparents' home during austerity Britain after the war. Christmas was low key and I suppose keeping the festival simple was instilled into me and I can't get away from that attitude when planning present day festivities. Our family life continues to evolve as the years go by. Only one of our grandchildren lives in a two-parent family (children divorced or divorced and then widowed). I'm glad that my husband and I are in harmony with one ex son-in-law and can meet up with some of the family on special occasions such as Christmas. Trying to stay positive about family health issues also.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Early childhood memories are so important and set the path for the future don't they? I hope I have given my own children some good grounding memories too. Your childhood sounds tough, but the postwar years were difficult for so many people.

    Enjoy Christmas with your family Linda. Modern families are complicated and all we can do is work with that and try and keep everyone happy I think and make the best of what is now.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Beautiful childhood memories Marianne. Such a pretty little book you were given! When I was young I spent Christmas mostly in Maastricht, where my grandmother lived. It was quite a long drive, but on the way there my brother and I used to count the Christmas trees. That helped! My grandmother was a good cook and there were always presents for us under the tree. I remember playing boardgames in the evening and with a bit of luck we could ride our sleighs in the daytime on a big hill nearby. I have some beautiful memories of the Christmases with my husband and my daughters. It still not used to celebrating without him.

    Have a lovely evening!

    Madelief

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hello Madelief. Strangely enough, one of my sons' friends had a Dutch grandmother who lived in Maastricht and the family visited her every Christmas, returning with tales of going round all the lovely churches there, the Christmas chimes ringing out across the town. Childhood memories are so important and it is wonderful to have happy ones to see us through the sad times.

      I lost my husband, my children's father, to divorce which is a different kind of bereavement, so I can well understand the complexity of this season for anyone whose close family has been shattered, but I do hope that you and your daughters will have a wonderful and memorable time this Christmas despite the sadness. Sending you lots of love.

      Delete
  9. What a lovely post! You're so lucky/wise to have held on to that book through all these years -- what a treasure. And that doll, who looks as if she's been as well loved as the Velveteen Rabbit! ;-)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you - that is kind. I'm glad too that this book has survived the numerous culls - I think these are the only two possessions I still have from my childhood although I have kept more of my sons' books and toys. It's always hard to know what to keep and what to let go, but a few mementoes are lovely to have.

      My son and daughter-in-law had a reading from the Velveteen Rabbit at their wedding and it always has special meaning for me. Something to look forward to sharing with the next generation, I hope.

      Delete
  10. Our family has recently expanded to include a much larger and more complicated one than our own and so we are learning to be flexible. This year it's our turn with the new grand daughter and that makes it extra special. I remember the bitter disappointment of the year I begged for a walky-talky doll and got instead a large plastic boy baby doll (called Billy) in spotty pyjamas. He was 'lost' many years ago but I still have my very realistic baby doll (Rosie). The Norway Spruce tree in the freezing cold house smelt wonderful but my mother went over to a silver tinsel tree in later years.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. All families have to absorb new members and traditions eventually, although I bitterly resented this when my ex-husband set up an alternative home for my children when they were still young.! Time heals.

      How special to have your new granddaughter - this will be a wonderful celebration for you, Lucille. Perhaps one day she will love your baby doll, Rosie.

      We always have a real tree now, something I longed for as a child - the smell is amazing and well worth the cost in my opinion. Silver tinsel doesn't quite have the same impact although I'm sure your mother loved it!

      Delete
  11. I share your memories of the Irish Catholic Christmas, Marianne, small artificial tree and baby doll and all. I still recall the excitement when an aunt in America sent us a special felt Santa that was designed to fit over a packet of digestive biscuits for Christmas Eve supper.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Marianne, I so enjoyed reading about your family Christmases, both past and present. I am enchanted with your Christmas eve traditions, and your detailed prose, recalling those special moments long ago, illustrates that, although those festive days and nights may now seem like a dream, they remain very real in your memory, and so very close to your heart.

    Happy Christmas!

    Poppy

    ReplyDelete
  13. A quiet, peaceful one, with good cheer and equally good food and drink, a few friends, no family friction and a wander down memory lane. Just like you did here.
    The Christmases of our childhood were always cold and clear and frosty (ha), snow deep and crisp and even (double ha) and goodwill among all men (triple ha).

    Still, I enjoy Christmas such as it is now. Have a Merry One, Marianne.

    ReplyDelete
  14. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Childhood Christmases were too varied and sometimes unpredictable to have a distinct 'feel' to them, and I tend to prefer them now, a bit straggly and drawn out, with our tiny family meeting or being in touch at all sorts of odd times! The quieter and more homely and low-key the better, really, with as little frantic shopping as possible....

    ReplyDelete
  16. Hello Marianne,

    We have been away for solong that your Christmas has come and gone and must now be a distant memory. However, we trust you enjoyed it all and that you managed to meet up with as many of your family members as you could.

    And now it is the New Year. We wish you and your family peace, joy and success.

    ReplyDelete
  17. Hi Marianne I have been pretty slow about keeping visiting for various reasons (travelling etc) but I see you haven't been blogging for a couple of months so you won't have missed me :) I look forward to hearing your updates soon.

    ReplyDelete

Comments are fun and I love to know you have visited and what you think so please say hello.