The first week in December heralds Advent, the season of preparation. Also the build up to the most exciting, busy and emotional time of the year. And for many, it can be the most confusing.The melting pot of Santa, angels, elves, the North Pole, fairies, presents, shepherds, Baby Jesus, wisemen, The Grinch, stockings, reindeer, Scrooge, pantomime, festivals of light, cake, decorations, mulled wine, markets, feel good films, Ferrero Rocher, shoe boxes, turkey and pressured over spending may be overwhelming, yet the magic still remains.
My childhood memories of Christmas always bring a smile to my lips as even though the preparations were ongoing through December they were very meager by today’s standards but still as marvelous through my child eyes. The thought of long grey socks wrapped round the bed post on Christmas Eve with the anticipation of a Jaffa orange or tangerine in tissue paper stuffed in the toe, the hardest Brazil and Walnuts to crack taking up the middle section and a box of Maltesers poking out of the top was a real treat to look forward to.
Making paper chain decorations that didn’t match went on each evening after school and well before Kirstie’s Homemade Christmas we baked hard ginger biscuits in the oven and threaded them with with red ribbon ready for the ritual of decorating the real tree we’d collected from the woods.
The turkey was ordered well in advance from Forster’s, the sausages and bacon from Thackery’s and the delicious pork dips from Yager’s as a lunchtime treat for Christmas Eve. Deposits were put down on Christmas outfits from Collinson’s and Mortimer’s and a little was paid off every week.
Doggarts was my favourite shop as I was fascinated by the little metal rubber ended cylinder that was catapulted through the high pipework and came back with your change on its return journey. It always worked overtime in December. As everyone was having the same meal on Christmas Day, large green net bags of sprouts were stacked on the pavement outside Donaghy’s next to the brown paper sacks of potatoes and close to the parsnips.
The Fentiman’s pop order was in and they always delivered the Saturday before Christmas. With no room in the tiny fridge we left the dandelion and burdock and cream soda in the porch next to the back door where the wind whistled in and kept everything cold.
Holly wreaths were made at home and we sewed on tartan ribbon from Woolworths haberdashery counter and hung them on the outside door and the flowers came from Beveridge’s so we could remember loved ones who were no longer with us.
As Christmas Eve approached, scores of families laden down with string bags full of vegetables and tissue paper wrapped bread rushed home to check the turkey and start wrapping presents.
We had the whole evening to prepare as we didn’t need to be at church until 11.30 when the choir sang carols in preparation for Midnight Mass. Every year my family sang out their own rendition of favourites. Gathering round the piano we practiced O LiitleTown of Bethlehem and Away in a Manger before the short walk to church.
My favourite memory is getting to the rousing last verse of Adeste Fidelis and seeing smoke billowing out of the top of the piano as someone had dropped a cigarette into the little dish that held the milk checks for the Co-op. Being a real trooper my Uncle Michael played on while my brother poured on water to extinguish the flames.
I remember laughing all the way to Mass as we braced the cold night air knowing that finally Christmas Day was just around the corner and the festivities and magic could begin.