It is Christmas Eve. I am about 2 or 3. A family friend leans down and asks me, "What day is it tomorrow, Elisabeth?" in an encouraging tone. I think for a moment, and solemnly answer,
I'm going home for Christmas this year. It's not far, but it feels like a world away from the subtly different family traditions which I have been invited to at the boyfriend's for several years running. For me, Christmas is not Christmas without:
- Films - all seen a million times before - Die Hard, Muppet Christmas Carol, Wallace and Gromit and/or the Great Escape
- A tree of sorts, and decorations around the house
- A cake of sorts which must be more durable (yet considerably more edible) than a cockroach
- Stockings, real big wooly ones, at the end of the bed in the morning, to be opened before everything else on parent's bed. Must contain socks, posh colouring pencils and paper, and a Terry's chocolate orange at the bottom. Optional small Lego figures and sugar mice. I am now too old for stockings at my dad's, but still get given a very different and equally generous kind by boyfriend's mother.
- The Food: Goose for tea, Eggs Benedict for lunch, chocolate croissants for breakfast with lashings of Bucks Fizz
- The Events: a photograph of my Dad's foot, a tradition which started accidentally after he took photos of my toddling brother and I opening presents on the floor two years running and put his foot in it. The foot is now the star of the show.
- The Schedule: Presents happen after breakfast. Everyone knows this. Then you have the rest of the day to play with them. Everyone takes turns to open one present each, and watch the delighted (or not so) face of the recipient. I cannot understand the idea of presents after lunch, unless you have a second go when friends arrive for tea with more presents.
- The Delayed Reaction: Almost every year my un-godmother remembers to get or make my brother and I presents, and forgets to send them. There is then a brief revival of the Christmas spirit in February, about the same time as the last of the cake is binned.
Of course I won't be getting all of these things when I get home this weekend, because as I mentioned last year, there is a new family set up and new traditions are forming. I have grown older, and there are fewer presents and more bottles on the table. But there will be the memories, the ghosts of Christmasses past, in the air, in the conversation, and on the screens. There will be people to regale with stories such as the anecdote at the head of this post. I encourage all my readers to share their own traditional, ideal Christmas in the comments - and if you can, with your significant other.