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Will Christmas really be Christmas?

Posted by on December 25, 2014

12DayscolouredI 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!

Diana Devlin

2 Responses to Will Christmas really be Christmas?

  1. Margaret McAlpine

    Very much enjoyed reading this and hope the younger generation do continue this wonderful time of year. I have only just removed the last trappings of Christmas from my house as I couldn’t bear to dismantle my table decoration.

  2. Sherry Plant

    Traditions, continuity, the threads that tie us through time to each other. When I was a child I had a plastic sailor piggy bank. I had to pop a penny in his hat each week to save up to buy the family Christmas presents. “Tis better to give than receive” and Christmas ISN’T Christmas without gifts. My father would take me to Jones and Higgins, a large department store in Peckham and we would choose together. I remember buying my mum a plastic back scratcher! Amazing how far those 52 pennies stretched (but £4 was a lot of money in the 60’s). I’d also visit Santa’s Grotto on a rocket, or in Cinderella’s carriage or on Aladdins carpet. We’d bob along as scenery rolled past us. It was magical. My brother and I would count Christmas trees from either side of a bus when we went to Oxford street “to see the lights” and window shop for gifts we were never likely to get. But we ate hot chestnuts and gazed up in awe at the huge tree in Trafalgar square every year. In my house Father Christmas made a special visit on Christmas night as he made his way back to Greenland as the old duffer always forgot a small sack of gifts. I swear I heard the reindeer bells as my older brothers distracted me so Dad could drop the sack on the doorstep. The Christmas story was Jesus, carol singing, the ritual of the same decorations (mercury balls, tinsel, silver fairy in a crepe paper frock and twinkling lights) the tree, the stocking, presents, endless grub, Morecombe and Wise and all day telly.
    The next generation now have their own rituals- the Alessi Christmas figures added to each year. The Christmas cocktails and craft bears, the xmas market cheese board- the game of Articulate and NO TV (though they are all over their phones and Facebook and shopping on line in the sales!) and definitely NO JESUS. And now NO PRESENTS. Except for the “little ones”. And their own parents. And their partners. Oh and best friends. So if you aren’t a wife, a Mum or a daughter (like me) you just have to remember “tis better to give than receive” and smile at your “Secret Santa” mystery gift!

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