Christmas morning and my brother and I would wake early; a quick peek through the curtains, to see if there was any snow, then straight on to the Christmas stockings.
Christmas stockings weren’t what they are today. No shop bought, Santa decorated stocking for us, just one of Granddads long socks usually containing a tangerine, some nuts, chocolate and sweets and maybe a small toy of some kind. I must admit that I always felt uneasy eating sweets that had spent the night in Granddads sock.
Sweets gone, Walnut put to one side because we couldn’t crack the bloody thing and small toy probably broken, we set too with a hushed squabble or two before we were told we were allowed to get up.
The coming of Christmas was always announced by the loud playing of a New Seekers record. I think it was the only record that Granddad owned that was even close to being a pop record so he liked to annoy all the others that weren’t awake yet by putting it on full blast. If that failed, we were allowed to go upstairs and jump on a few beds to make the point clearer.
Mum and dad usually got up next and indulged in their own little tradition of dressing for Christmas.
Whilst everyone else eventually appeared, bleary eyed and barely awake, in dressing gowns, Dad had to come down in a shirt and tie. Sometimes we got away with it until lunchtime but, at some time during the course of the day, shirt and tie were donned and certainly before lunch.
Our cousins, Stewart and Andrew would always join us on the early shift but their father, Uncle Brian was always the last to be roused from sleep.
The night before, after we had gone to bed, the adults would have prepared the sitting room for the morning. Santa would have drunk the milk and eaten the mince pie we had left for him and some years, he even left a muddy foot print or two as well. I have to stress that at this point in time the children’s ages ranged from toddler to teen, or even OAP if you include Granddad, so such traditions carried on for quite some time. In fact they continued long after even the youngest had sussed that it wasn’t Santa who drank the milk.
Once most were out of bed, Grandma handed round tea and biscuits as the four children sat patiently eying up the presents that had been pilled under the tree and Brian and Sandra coughed their way through their first cigarette of the day.
Looking back at the video (DVD), I think our family would be pulled up in court today for child abuse. Nearly every adult in the family smoked and their tobacco of choice ranged from cigarettes, through cigars to pipes so sometimes, the fog in the room became so dense it was hard to see from one side to the other. It’s weird to watch today a mother picking up her toddler in a smoke filled room and a cigarette in her mouth but such things were the norm then.
Before the tea and biscuits were finished it would be Granddad who became impatient and would call the festivities to order by gathering the children around the tree and beginning his Father Christmas role of handing out the presents, calling out the name of who it was for and who it was from for each present. Rather destroyed the image of Santa coming down the chimney I admit but we were sold on the story that the adults chose the presents and Santa delivered them.
Everyone, young and old alike, tore into their presents with gusto. Hurried shouts of ‘thanks Grandma, thanks Granddad, thanks Uncle Brian’ could be heard above the general hubbub but they were only very hasty words of thanks as it wasn’t long before Granddad had thrown another present in your direction.
Dad, being dad, used to try and bring some form of order to the proceedings by attempting to get us to formally show him what we had received and from whom and then we were expected to get up and go and humbly thank our benefactor. Good old Granddad soon put paid to that though and he soon had me and my brother sat in front of him ripping open presents with complete abandon just like everyone else and throwing the discarded wrapping paper into the ever growing mound in the middle of the room.
I’ve tried to explain to my children how special Christmas was in those days but I just don’t think they get it. Most children now get presents all year round, we got presents just twice a year. Big ones at Christmas and smaller ones on birthdays and Christmas presents were just one, at most two, from each relative and the food was special too. Sweets and chocolates, virtually on tap, for two days! We may not have had as much as my children have but, do you know what, we appreciated what we did get far more.
Presents all opened we sat down to play with our new toys while eyeing Stewart and Andrew jealously as they played with their cheaper, but far better, toys. Dad never really got it with toys. With him around, all our toys had to have a serious or educational aspect to them. Often our best presents were the ones bought by Uncle Brian and Auntie Sandra. They had a much better idea of what kids liked.
The adults had their presents too. Granddad would always get gardening tools, Grandma would get slippers and dad always got socks.
As we played and or built our new toys, Grandma would start the clearing up operation, carefully saving the un-torn bits of wrapping paper for next year and dad would, rather forlornly and out of place, ask everyone what they got.
Clearing up done, Grandma and the other ladies would retire to the kitchen to start on breakfast and the men would settle down on the sitting room floor to help us kids with the serious business of playing; apart from dad of course who would sit regally in his chair asking ‘Who bought you that son?’
Before very long it was time for breakfast and Grandma was calling us into the dining room. Sounds posh having a dining room, but downstairs there was actually only a front room, a back room and a kitchen.
Seating arrangements for meals varied in ingenuity depending on the number of people present. Bearing in mind that Grandma had only a standard sized dining room table and four dining room chairs seating eleven for breakfast and even more for lunch was quite a feat. Every available chair or stool of the right height was brought in to play along with several planks of wood which, propped between two chairs and covered with towels to avoid splinters in the bum, made admirable benches.
Every meal at Christmas was a noisy affair and breakfast was no exception. ‘Pass the salt, pass the pepper, he’s got more than me, who’s got the ketchup?’ all mingled in with the cacophony of the various conversations being held across one another and the occasional simultaneous cry of ‘Brian!’ from Grandma and Auntie Sandra following one of his more ribald comments or, even better, him breaking wind to which he would simply respond ‘Oops, More tea Vicar?’
Just as every meal was noisy, every meal ended in long debates over the un-cleared plates and a cup of tea. Topics varied considerably but invariably ended up on the one thing that Grandma wanted to avoid; politics.
The women, led by Grandma, would try and impose a complete ban on any discussions political but, try as they might, Uncle Brian and Dad could turn any discussion into a political one. I swear that if someone said the weather was bad today, one of them would have blamed the others political party for the rain. It would start of innocuous enough, a little jibe here, a tiny dig there. Dad would try and be a smart arse and Brian would react. Unfortunately, dad is as cold as ice in an argument as he is with his children whereas Brian has a temper and wears his heart on his sleeve so it would soon escalate to point where voices were not just raised, there was shouting and swearing until Grandma would suddenly slam her hands down on the table and shout ‘That’s enough! No more politics’. Grandma didn’t shout often but boy when she did you knew you had gone too far. The debate would close with Grandma starting to clear the plates and a subdued, not entirely sarcastic ‘sorry mum’ from Brian.
Breakfast was complete.