The presents are wrapped and under the tree. The preparations for Christmas lunch are more-or-less under control in the kitchen. And I’m in my little study, sipping tea, drinking in the peace and waiting for another Christmas Day to begin.
And thinking back on Christmases past. Of all the people and places and things that went in to making them so special. Such as:
1. A Christmas Mystery:
I know we all believe in Santa, but I REALLY believed in Santa for an embarassingly long time. That’s because the year I started paying attention to some of the worrying rumours that were making the rounds at school, an amazing thing happened. I walked into our living room and saw, at the window, an elf. Yes, an elf. Dressed in red and with a jingley hat on his head. He was peering in and doing a little dance, although maybe he was just hopping from foot to foot to get a better look. Naturally, I started jumping up and down on the spot and shouting for everyone to come look. My parents rushed in from the kitchen, my brothers ran in from the bedrooms and everyone spent the next five minutes playing ‘Spot the Elf’ as he disappeared from one window only to reappear at another one. Now, I am sure you are as amazed as we were, and you don’t even know the punch line yet. We lived on the fourth floor of an apartment building. So, if he wasn’t a real elf, what could that have been all about? I don’t know about you, but my money’s on Santa.
2. Delayed Gratification:
The year they were showing The Sound of Music, my brother Dennis worked at Radio City Music Hall. One of the perks of the job was that he got to talk to the Rockettes. One of the drawbacks was that they never talked back. Another downside was that he had to work on Christmas Day. And so, we decided that instead of opening our presents, we would all wait for him to get home. I have to admit that it was not an unanimous decision. So, while he spent the day humming The Hills Are Alive to himself, I spent it climbing around under the tree and rattling boxes. I have absolutely no idea what presents I got, but I can still remember the excitement of wondering what they were. Looking back on it, I realise that I learned a valuable lesson that year, namely that the anticipation of something can be as wonderful as the thing itself. I still apply that principle, mainly to the annual summer holiday and the weekly Friday night pizza.
3. The Arrival of the Relatives:
Christmas is really the only time of year that I truly regret our decision to not live in America. While everyone else has hoardes of family arriving for the big day, we have each other. Which, of course, is nice but a few extra people would be even better. So, the years when Mom and my brother Jimmy and his wife Jane and my Cousin Margie and her son Mike came were all great years. So were the ones when friends made the trip over. Thanks to everyone who has shared their Christmas with us over the years. To the rest of you, what are you waiting for?
4. Christmas Eve:
Christmas Eve is one of the highlights of our year. The festivities start off at Browns Hotel, an elegant London townhouse, filled with Christmas decorations and overstuffed armchairs and silver tea services. While someone plays carols on the piano, we sit near the fire and eat an enormous amount of scones, and clotted cream and jams. Not to mention little triangles of ham and salmon sandwiches, and Christmas cakes and mince pies. All washed down with their traditional Christmas blend of tea. It’s not for the faint-hearted. Then it’s off to Regents Street to see the Christmas lights, followed by a short stop at Trafalgar Square to sing carols by the tree, a brief look-in at our friends’ annual Christmas Eve drinks party and then we get ready for the main event. By which, of course, I mean…
5. Midnight Mass:
Now, this is a fairly well-kept secret, so please don’t tell anyone. We and a group of friends go to the Tower of London every year for Midnight Mass. It’s an amazing experience. You are let in through the walls of the Tower by an uniformed Beefeater and then wander up past Traitor’s Gate, and the spot where Anne Boleyn was beheaded and the place where they keep the Crown Jewels, to arrive at a small, ancient, candle-lit church. The sound of the choir bounces off the stone walls, as the priest and congregation say the words of a service that has been taking place on that spot for a thousand years. It is quite a remarkable thought to know that you are part of something like that. Then, mass is over and you emerge into Christmas morning. The Tower is lit up, as is the iconic bridge behind it, the River Thames is twinkling with reflected lights and, in a homage to Cousin Margie, we turn to each other and say ‘Gee, this kinda makes me homesick for Minneapolis’. Another Christmas has officially begun.
Ah, there is a suspicion of sound coming from upstairs so I suppose it’s time to see what the day will bring. But, before I go, may I just wish you and your families a very Happy Christmas. I hope it will be filled with the stuff of wonderful memories.
Not Leo Tolstoy (aka Eileen Riley)