This week has heralded the switching on of three sets of Christmas lights locally. I feel distinctly anxious for December is still weeks away.
While I love Christmas, I just don’t appreciate the mission creep. I come from a family of autumn birthdays and when growing up it was only fair that my sisters and I got at least one egocentric day to hang up our birthday cards before the Christmas tree needled its way in. This was Family Law. No negotiation. One sister ruled late November, the other late December, and somehow I always managed to squeeze in a pop up birthday celebration between the two.
Fast forward half a century and suddenly the world looks set to drown out any birthday merriment for the three of us. Christmas chocolate is on sale from late August, boy bands are switching on Christmas lights from September and don’t get me started on American Thanksgiving infiltrating our birthday advent in the form of Black Friday.
As I say, I love Christmas, it just needs to rein its jingle in until after the family birthday season. After birthdays have been properly saluted, we will warmly greet December 25th – we’ll even raise a token glass of Baileys in memory of our grandmother who had to selflessly share her birthday with the baby Jesus.
As children we had pillowcases instead of Christmas stockings, which perhaps illustrated a sense of optimism that was sadly misplaced because of my father’s frugality. Giddy kipper that I was, I’d enthusiastically put my pillowcase out on the end of my bed first thing on Christmas Eve and then keep returning to my bedroom at regular intervals throughout the day to check that a little lump of coal hadn’t appeared as a consequence of any errant misdemanours throughout the year .
The reality check on Christmas morning would always be the evidence that Father Christmas wasn’t quite as nimble as he liked to think he was. My parents slept downstairs in our dorma bungalow and to be honest, Father Christmas couldn’t always be bothered to go upstairs to our bedrooms to fulfil his festive duties – or indeed wait for we three girls to fall asleep. Sometimes he just left little piles of ‘gifts’ at the bottom of the stairs, and stayed grounded with a little night cap.
St. Nick also had a practical approach to Christmas and realised very early on that if he filled our pillowcases with items that were unwanted by us but useful to him, then we would regift them back in his direction very quickly before disappearing to console ourselves in a giant tin of Quality Street. The reality of family tradition was that our pillowcases invariably contained a toothbrush, some Wright’s Cold Tar soap and a Terry’s Chocolate Orange. (Note that there was no need to regift chocolate oranges if they were of milk chocolate variety. Santa Claus preferred dark chocolate oranges however, and regretably there seemed to be a proliferation of these.) You can see why we were keen to prolong the birthday season for as long as possible.
As mentioned before, confectionary plays a big part in my heritage, and I’m pleased to say that even though our Father Christmas is sadly no longer able to perform his duties, the tradition of receiving a Terry’s Chocolate Orange persists. These days it’s Mother Christmas who goes to the trouble of individually wrapping each box before gifting them to adults, grandchildren and great grandchildren. The chorus of, ‘tap it, unwrap it and share a little luxury,’ resounds still under each of our Christmas trees, it’s just these days my father would be horrified to realise that dark chocolate has been replaced with white chocolate, popping candy and mint varieties. I have to say, greedy pigs that we are, he’d also be disgusted about the lack of sharing going on.
Father Christmas needs to take responsiblity for our sweet teeth though. For years I actually thought our dentist was the bountiful donor of confectionary seasonal cheer. Each year a huge box of Maynard’s marzipan fondants appeared under the tree with a tag wishing a sweet festive season from our dentist, Dr Buckley. When we visited him in his surgery he always seemed very austere and – to be honest, brutally heavy handed – so I was surprised to learn that he took time out each year to support our burgeoning tally of fillings. Clearly I was far from streetwise; it took me many years to realise that Father Christmas was more likely to dabble in ironic gift tags and random presents under the tree than he was in spending time filling our pillow cases up with personalised offerings. Wise man, but it was his handwriting and obsession with all things marzipan that eventually gave the game away – not to mention the fact that the sweets kept appearing long after Dr Buckley’s untimely demise.
My sisters and I will naturally keep campaigning to make our birthdays Christmas- free, but I do take some solace from noting the growing family of Terry’s chocolate orange products that are now available – always useful when the family ask us for birthday gift suggestions. In preparation for my own birthday, this year I’m stock-piling some chocolate orange muffins, family packs of toffee crunch minis and have ordered a box or two of chocolate orange segsations (who knew?). My research also reveals that there are now Youtube videos to show both the etiquette of unwrapping the non-citrus vintage original and a game to test who can unwrap their orange most speedily.
I feel a family competition coming on and it may need to creep into the Christmas period. I’ll invite my sisters over on each of our three birthdays; we’ll tap into our official birthday period to get in Chocolate Orange training for December 25th. If all goes well, we may still be ready to unwrap and share a little luxury, if it doesn’t, we’ll just move Christmas Day back a bit.