All my childhood Christmases are tied up inextricably with my grandparents. They were part of the structure and the magic of the day. For me they were the pillars of Christmas. Me and my sisters would get up around 7am - we were amazingly restrained kids - and head downstairs where my parents would have prepared the presents. They were presented in huge plastic bags that featured a huge portrait of Father Christmas on them. Lord knows where my parents had obtained them from. My memory tells me that the bags were enormous - positively cavernous - but logic now tells me I was just very small and my eyes were seeing everything through Christmas-goggles.
Once the presents were all unwrapped we'd have a quick breakfast - all eaten mechanically; who can concentrate on food when you are surrounded by so much Christmas loot? In those days there were no Christmas song compilation CDs or YouTube... in our house it was Radio 1 or nothing and every year the old Christmas favourites would be wheeled out and broadcast, usually by Terry Wogan or Dave Lee Travis. Slade, Wizard, John Lennon and for some reason "The Sun Has Got His Hat On"... not sure why that old war time song was played every Christmas but it was and yet strangely does not feature on any Christmas compilation that I can find.
About 10.30 my granddad, Bampap, would arrive to drive us all up to my Nan's - my sisters and I were allowed to choose one present to take with us (mine was always a Lego set). And that for me was the start of Christmas Day proper. My Nan's house would be strung about with colourful paper decorations and all their cards - hundred of them - would be carefully sellotaped in pleasing patterns on the glass panels of all the doors in the house. The grown-ups would have a quick drink and chat while we kids sat impatiently waiting for the go ahead to play with our presents - like I said, we were amazingly restrained. If we were really lucky Father Christmas would have delivered a few extra presents for us at my Nan's but even if not the best present of all was just knowing we were going to be here for the next 2 days.
Just after 11am all the grown-ups - barring my Nan - would head off down the pub. My Nan would stay behind to cook the Christmas meal and look after me and my sisters. My memories of this time are very happy: the whole day still ahead of us, a new Lego set to build and lots of jolly, friendly programmes on the TV and my Nan in her absolute element. Her time at the pub would come on Boxing Day when my parents would stay behind and look after us but Christmas Day itself was just us kids and Nan and the gradually deepening aromas of chicken and turkey being slowly roasted.
As I got older I began to get curious about "the pub" - what happened there, what they did - and indeed as I got older I soon got to the age where the Lego dried up and we were allowed to join the grown-ups at the pub. I won't lie; it was a disappointment. I've never been a pub person and although it was jolly and fun it was never Christmas in the way it was in those early years when it was just us and Nan and Christmas telly in her cosy front room.
The afternoon was usually a blur. The arrival of the Christmas meal seemed to take the brakes off the day and the afternoon and evening would always career away from me much too fast. We'd eat. Watch the Christmas film. My parents would both falls asleep on the sofa much to my Auntie Linda's mirth. We'd have a light tea and then Bampap would drive us home again, Christmas sadly, grievously over for another year. The only consolation was coming back to my Nan's again for Boxing Day.
I hope Karen and I give something of this type of Christmas to our boys. It's difficult. My Nan and Bampap knew so many people my sisters and I were overloaded with "aunts" and "uncles". My boys have precious few so Karen and I work hard to pick up the shortfall. Those Christmases of my childhood are long gone. They live only in my heart and head in pictures and sounds and smells that I cannot, with all the longing in the world, impart to my children. I just hope the pictures and sounds they are imbibing in these years will stand them in as good stead as my own and they will remember their childhood Christmases as lovingly as I remember mine.
And I hope you will remember yours that way too, both Christmases past and all Christmases to come.
May you all have a very Merry Christmas and a very happy New Year.
As a side-note you might like to know that this, dear readers, is my 1000th post.