I wonder what books and films and plays you most associate with Christmas. Not to mention Christmas songs and carols. I think many of us have traditions that go back years and are as important a part of the festivities as the crackers and mince pies. And each generation establishes new ones. When I was four years old, during the Second World War, my aunt organized a Nativity tableau in the local church using all the village children. I don’t have to take part in one of those any more. But that same year she invented actions for The Twelve Days of Christmas, and just a couple of days ago I watched the six children in the family faithfully repeating them as we belted out the final frantic verse. They never knew my aunt, but I’m sure they’ll be teaching their own children those same actions a few decades from now.
‘“Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents,”’grumbled Jo, lying on the hearthrug.’ As in my early years, the March family in LIttle Women were ‘making do’, because it was wartime. One English tradition that had to wait until the end of the war was the annual production of Peter Pan, which was finally revived at the Scala Theatre in Tottenham Court Road. This was a must, for my mother had played ‘Wendy’ six years running in the 1920s. The revival had hardly changed since those days; ‘Peter’ was still played by an actress: Margaret Lockwood, and a few years later her own daughter Julia ‘Toots’ Lockwood, Peggy Cummins, Barbara Kelly. My great uncle Russell was still playing ‘Smee, the non-Conformist pirate.’ We all knew the music, we all knew how revive ‘Tinkabell’ . . . ‘She thinks she might get better,’ Peter Pan pleaded ‘ – if children believed in fairies. Oh, children, if you do believe, clap your hands!’ And we all shouted out ‘WE DO BELIEVE! WE DO BELIEVE!’ and clapped our hands like mad. I imagine that in years to come, today’s children will feel equally fervent about Frozen.
Then there’s A Christmas Carol, which my mother first read to me when I was six. ‘What’s today?’ cries Scrooge, after his night with all the ghosts. ‘Why, CHRISTMAS DAY,’ replies the small boy, and it all ends happily ever after. This year, there was a wonderful version of it on BBC Radio 4, with music.
One year, long after I grew up, my father was ill in Taunton Hospital. I spent the whole of Christmas week tucked up in his cottage, driving in to visit him each day as he made a swift recovery, and spending the rest of the time gorging myself on old movies which were always the mainstay of the television schedules in those days: Gone With The Wind, White Christmas, The Sound of Music, It’s a Wonderful Life!. One of the best holidays I remember! Nowadays, when my goddaughter and her husband have put the children to bed and tidied away most of the gift paper, we all sit down and watch the DVD of Love Actually. Bliss!