Christmastime is a time to cast your mind back to childhood memories that make Christmas for you today.
Some of my earlier childhood was spent in the Far East. Java, to be precise. My most vivid memories are of an enormous real Christmas tree that reached right up to the ceiling. Bearing in mind that houses were built with high ceilings for coolness in the heat of the day. As was the usual custom, we had servants. My poor mother did not know quite what hit her when we arrived in the western hemisphere and she had to do her own housework! We used to have a maid for the laundry and general cleaning, one acted as cook and there was a gardener along with a driver who took my Dad to his office and back every day. Life was good!
Anyway, my parents used to entertain a lot but I do remember that we used to celebrate Christmas on Christmas Eve. This gave a magical sense to the whole event with all the candles and lights shining brightly. Loads of presents were placed under the tree including presents for each of the servants and their families. It was always the custom for them to come in and be given their presents before we sat down to our Christmas evening meal. And, guess what? I was allowed a little taste of red wine with lots of water added. Oh, how the colour would sparkle as I showed my wine glass to the candle light!
Christmas in Guernsey, Channel Islands which is where I spent the rest of my childhood, was very different. Here my parents decided latterly to celebrate on Christmas Day with lunch. The magical atmosphere did not seem to be prevalent then unless my earlier childhood memories were becoming clouded.
There was one custom which I remember from Java and Guernsey. This was the custom my canny Scots father instigated! That of saving Christmas wrapping paper! Since my parents were strong believers that the festival was a close family one only (and so, there were three of us since I was an only child!) it was easier to continue with the habit of saving the wrapping paper. We had an old brown beaten up leather suitcase which had seen far better days. Inside were carefully folded pieces of Christmas wrapping paper of all sizes and styles. Many tags as well which had all been written years before, Mummy, Daddy, Patricia. Since we always had a real tree the pine needles would find their way into the case and therefore the contents always had a wonderful pine smell about them. To this day, Christmas means pine trees in my mind's eye!
The first time I spent any time outside of the home and watched as people we had given presents opening up theirs was to be a hard lesson to be learnt. They all would rip off the paper! Didn't they think to carefully remove the sticky tape and then fold the paper in the creases that had been created so long ago? This is what we always did!!! To this day, I still feel guilty if I rip or tear the paper as I try to open the present carefully whether I save the paper or not!
Now it is my turn to recreate a family Christmas. We ,too, decided that Christmas dinner should be just for our family. However, with 4 children it was a lot noisier and more fun! For many years we had our routine of trying to sleep through the noise of the children waking early, excitedly opening up the presents in their sacks. My husband sometimes worked shift work during these years and so often he would not be home until early afternoon. I would allow a couple of the smaller presents to be opened with the main ones waiting for when we were all together before dishing up the meal. Evenings were always spent playing with the new found presents.
Today, the children and their respective partners have their own commitments in that they spend alternate Christmases with their various 'in laws'. Bucks Fizz (champagne and orange) is always the starting signal of Christmas morning whether my husband and I are on our own or not. Later others arrive and we go through the ritual opening of presents, the meal, the playing with presents before we all go home to our various homes.
One day, they will all have families and want to spend Christmas in their homes. I wonder what their childhood memories will be of their Christmases?