Whatever the feast at Christmas it is joyous, even for people who claim that all their families do on Xmas is fight. They do get together so, I guess that is how they love. Some families seriously enjoy each other with laughter and giving. Some families are apart and miss each other. It’s all good.
And for the kids the whole Father Xmas, Baby Jesus thing is just too adorable. I remember when I was a child going to Trafalgar Square, in London and actually meeting Father Xmas. He had come all the way from Lapland just to meet some very special children and I was among the chosen. It was so exceptional. It was so exciting.
Did I ever question the fact that father Xmas was all over town, in toy shops, high streets and malls. Did I question that each time I saw him he looked different or that sometimes he had duplicated himself into many Father Xmas’s in one place? No! He had magic powers obviously. Otherwise how would he be able to give presents to all the children in the whole world and remember what they asked for?
A good friend of mine has never introduced his four year old son to Father Xmas. He says that he works hard for the money to buy those gifts and there is no way he is giving credit to some overweight guy in a ridiculous red outfit and tatty white beard. Besides, he is a Christian and if he tells his son the ‘lie’ about Father Xmas, then why should his son – who will eventually discover the truth – believe him when he talks truth about Jesus, the real Star of Xmas.
He has a point, I suppose. But what a shame.
I remember putting up stockings with our names sewn on so that Father Xmas could fill them up with delightful surprises. Some years we put out pillowcases. In the morning they would be full. I remember putting out sherry and minced pies so that he wouldn’t get too hungry on his journey to get to all the other kids. I remember writing him a letter about what I really wanted and giving it to my Mum to post. I would badger her to make sure she hadn’t forgotten to post my letter. And then I would try so hard to be good, because Father Xmas only granted the wishes of good children. And on Xmas morning, when the sherry glass was empty and the minced pie plate only had crumbs on it, oh my goodness the excitement. Father Xmas wouldn’t have had the temerity to consume all that and not leave the desired present. Sure enough, there it was, under the Xmas tree. And, I would say ‘Look, Mummy, Father Xmas gave me ….whatever’. And she would be happy with me. It was so exciting. It still makes me smile.
Jesus wasn’t neglected, though! We had advent candles. We would light the first one four Sundays before Xmas day, and say a prayer. And every subsequent Sunday before Xmas day we would do the same. And we had Advent Calendars. These were calendars withglitter and a beautiful but cheezy picture and little windows. Inside each window was a picture depicting the nativity. Each night of December we would open a different window.
And we would go Xmas Caroling. We would go around the neighbourhood with our friends and ring peoples doorbells, and when they opened the door we would start singing a Xmas Carol and they had to give us money. We would go door to door. Other Carolers came to our door too. The grown-ups would be singing in the Mall, or on the Highstreet. And we were all wrapped up in winter woollens and gloves.
And in church there was the nativity installation. And there was the nativity play. Some years you were a sheep, some years a cow, or a shepherd; but everyone got a turn to be Mary, or Joseph and Baby Jesus was always a plastic doll.
Oh, but Midnight Mass. I still love Midnight Mass. I still enjoy ‘Hark the Herald Angels Sing’, and ‘Away in a Manger’ and ‘Ding Dong Merrily on High’.
It wasn’t only us, at Xmas. All who were alone were welcome. Naturally, as we grew older Father X fell away, and our interest in the nativity waned.
I remember a little girl, maybe four years old, who came one Xmas with her mother. They’d newly arrived in London from South Africa. We didn’t have a present for the little girl, so we ran down the road to the sweet shop which was open till midday and found some plastic toy jewellery. The way her little face lit up. The joy and amazement in her exclamation ‘Is this for me’? I remember being choked up at her appreciation. It was beautiful. It was humbling.
Back then there was a table groaning under the weight of turkey and stuffing, stew and rice, brussel sprouts, and other asorted veggies, roast potatoes, salads, trifle, tinned peaches, xmas pud surrounded by those of the the exile community of South Africa who wanted to stop by. There was always a Xmas tree. Always!