Christmas has been with us, this year, since mid September, Marks and Sparks, restaurant fliers through the door advertising Christmas lunches and dinners at reasonable rates, and this week in Ballymena, in Northern Ireland, the shops are full of declarations, and the Council has erected a rather shaggy tree in the middle of a square, what it will look like on Christmas Eve I shudder to think. Christmas has become degraded, just a commercial circus. I think people forget that Christmas is really for the little children. mainly, and the family as a whole in an atmosphere of love and joy.
The essence of Christmas is surprise, and for little ones wonderment and make-believe. Dragging it out over three months destroys all that. Many years ago Christmas was heralded in the classroom with the children making paper chains, drawing pictures of Santa and looking forward to the end of term party. At home Christmas didn’t really start until mid-December, didn’t reach its full enriched colour and excitement until a week or so before Christmas, by which time the house was decorated, lists of presents were made and secrets exchanged. It must be remembered that small children would be taken shopping at about four o’clock, on or near the last Saturday before Christmas. It was relatively dark until one reached the shops on the High Street, then Christmas descended on you in a blaze of colour and light, with, for the little ones, an exciting visit to Santa’s grotto. The adults thought the present was rubbish, and inevitably not worth the money, but to the innocent child it had a significance that was more than worth the money.
The ritual of going into the bustle of the Christmas shopping, looking for presents, trooping from shop to shop, breathing on the windows, watching demonstrations of new toys, and trains going through tunnels, under bridges stopping and starting, was what Christmas was about, along with carols, the Manger, and Christmas Day with all that involved. When shopping, there was an unspoken understanding between adult and child of what was possible and what was beyond the budget for all of them. So the trip generally started at Woolworths and worked up, For the very young children Christmas was an encapsulation; it was a bubble in which everything was coloured by the coming event and all the preparations that went before, culminating at some absurd hour in the morning when the child crawled to the end of the bed and lifted its stocking in the dark, and tried to envisage what each lump inside the stocking held. He or she knew that the big lump wrapped in Christmas paper was a piece of coal, I believed that strangely if that had been missing the child would have been disappointed because that was an extra parcel from Santa, which made it special, and unwrapping was as much part of the fun as the receipt of the gift from Santa. A lot of the contents of the stocking were predictable, but there were always surprises. To maintain the fiction the adults hung their stockings across the kitchen fireplace, and they received things that would give the children amusement on Christmas morning, when the recipient feigned horror.
Are there still shops with trains running in and out of tunnels? Do they still have students demonstrating new toys, and shelves loaded with everything from small toy soldiers to toy stoves, dolls and the like? Or must we only resort to Internet shopping and the Argos catalogue. If this is so Christmas is dreary enough, without boringly dragging it all out for months and taking what little sheen there would be off the finally event. Today of course, the presents are two big and too expensive to put in a stocking in most houses. In some a stocking is a commercial item. Perhaps I’m just a scrooge giving the past a shine it never had. You might think that, I have already commented!