Tomorrow the countdown to Christmas will begin as children everywhere eagerly search for and open Door No1 of their advent calendars and the slow build of excitement will start with each day bringing them closer to the overwhelming awareness that Santa will be arriving. My own grandchildren are still young enough to be completely fascinated by the magic and wonder of this dear old gentleman, sliding down the chimney in his red clothes with never a smut appearing on his snow white beard, but when I remember my own nervous anticipation as a child, it always seemed to me that Christmas Eve was the most special part of the whole festive season.
For days I would have seen my Mother baking and the walk in pantry would slowly fill with all manner of delights, none of which we were allowed to taste before the 25th. Mince pies and puddings, trifles and jellies, pickles and ham, cheeses, nuts and fruit would take their place on the shelves all waiting in line for the arrival of the star – the turkey. Early on Christmas Eve the butcher would arrive, bringing the magnificent bird who would then lie in state on the marble slab with regular visits from my brother and I to make sure that all was well.
In my memories it was always cold at Christmas, often with frost or snow and my Father would have filled all the coal scuttles and log baskets, fires would be lit and at 5pm my Mother would begin to relax, ” The shops are shut now,” she would say.”What we haven’t got, we do without.” And so it would begin with a simple supper of egg and chips to rest our stomachs in preparation for the following day’s feasting. We would then walk to the local park where every Christmas Eve the churches and chapels would combine to create a living nativity and sing carols outside. It was a ritual we followed year after year and once home again, it was time to prepare for Father Christmas. A small glass of whisky and a mince pie along with a carrot for Rudolph would be placed at the side of the fire before we went to bed. Even now I can remember the tingle of excitement flooding through me, the knowledge that somehow things would be different tomorrow but with no certainty of how it would all happen or indeed what exactly might appear.
Of course I enjoyed the thrill of opening presents the next morning, the time spent with grandparents playing board games, the wonderful food my Mother had prepared but it was never quite as special as the anticipation and even now I enjoy looking forward to things and often get as much or more pleasure from that than the actual event. Perhaps because I enjoy planning, whether its a holiday itinerary or a meal for family and friends, from the moment I sit down with pen and paper to begin preparations I am anticipating what lies ahead and for me that is when the enjoyment starts.
On Saturday I shall be taking my grandson to his first pantomime, Peter Pan, and next week I shall be going to watch him take the role of a Wise Man in his school Nativity and share in his excitement and wonder as he slowly counts down the days to the big event. It is a wonderful part of being a grandparent to see the old traditions being played out again with another generation and a great privilege to be allowed to share in the joy of a childhood Christmas for the third time. So, tomorrow, I too will be opening the first door on my calendar, and looking forward to seeing young faces wide eyed with joy and wonder at this very special time of year.