13 December 2010
This family Christmas
I've had calls from my Mum since October, asking me where I will be for Christmas Day, what present would I like and how many 'pigs in blankets' do I think she needs to buy this festive season. I would always sigh, and tell her she's too early. But this weekend, I bought a pretty beaded wreath for my new front door. With just under two weeks to go until the big day, I thought perhaps it was time to face the Christmas music.
When I was the eldest of three children - my littlest brother and sister were still stars at this point- our Christmases were simply magical. Stories poured from my Dad at seven O'clock as we all tucked up in bed together, hugging hot water bottles and hearing about Father Christmas: his black shiny boots, a belly like jelly, getting goosebumps as my Dad dramatised the clip clop, clip clop of his reindeer's hoofs as they ran across our roof. This bit used to completely freak out my little sister who was two years younger than me, and she always insisted on putting her sack downstairs, 'not wanting a strange man in her room'. I suppose I must not have minded, because I loved the rustle at the bottom of my bed, as I felt the weight - not of a stocking - but a pillowcase full of crispy, crunchy wrapped-up presents on Christmas morning.
As the years went by, our Christmas traditions became law in our house. My sister falling off her chair as she pulled a cracker, opening our pillowcase presents all huddled in our dressing gowns on Mum and Dad's bed, fighting for the best spot, happened every year. Not one of us three dared open our main presents under the tree before my Mum and Dad had cleared the table after Christmas dinner and had slumped onto the sofa with a glass of wine. A shake, squeeze and sniff of the wrapping paper was all we could get away with. The fire was always roaring until about six O'clock, when it transformed into a beautiful warm glow. Mum and Dad laughing, always laughing. These were the times when our Christmas tree seemed so tall, it's lights glittering through glass baubles, splaying shapes all over the candlelit living-room.
I noticed the tough times were coming a long time before they actually did. It didn't feel tough all the time. But the house started to feel different, and it became still. Mum smiled less, and I used to be silly to make her look happy. Bury my head deep into my pillow at night to stop their muffled arguments from seeping up through the floorboards into my room. We'd be on best behaviour. Try not to be naughty, to not make a sound.
I don't care how you sort it out between you, but please don't cry.
I watched, always horrified as my Dad's eyes turned red and watery, his nostrils flared and his voice broke in sadness. I hated him when he cried. I felt useless. I often hid in my room right at the top of the house. It had big wide windows which overlooked beautiful green hills. I used to sit on the radiator underneath the window, looking out into the cold frost with the coloured Christmas tree lights glittering through windows, clutching my knees to my chest until my bottom got too hot. I used to see how long I could bear it before I had to leap off onto the cool of the wooden floorboards.
It was around this time when the magic of this family Christmas was lost.
The bright lights of Christmas which make everyday life appear dim, never seemed quite as magical when you became old enough to put them up. They outshine the glare of reality only temporarily. And then suddenly it's January and unlucky to keep them up any longer. You've got to take them down. Face your reality and see just what you've got.
Not all of this family is home for Christmas this year. But that's okay. We aren't all the same people that we used to be. I don't think I want to go back. I am happy now to keep this family wrapped tightly in my memories amongst colourful trips to the seaside and playing in penny arcades. I can peek at them only sometimes when I'm feeling a bit brave; when I want to remember and there's no one there to see me cry.