It’s that time of year…..OR the Good, the Bad and the unfortunate Ugly…of Christmas.

Merry Christmas every one.

Yes it’s time to bring out the hideous jerseys and grow weird things out of the top of your head.

Stop any child in the street and ask them what Christmas means to them…..and you’ll probably get arrested for attempted child abduction or molestation….it’s an unfortunate sign of the times. “Stranger Danger” has been drummed into kids these days, which means as a result, that we no longer have kids coming Christmas caroling door to door – as their parents are in constant fear of perverts grabbing them. If you were able to ask a child in the street – without their mother dragging them away while dialing the police on 911….111….or 999 depending on what part of the world you’re in – they would be more likely to reply either “Santa” or “Presents”, rather than “it’s a celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ – the son of God, sent to earth to save mankind”.

There are two reasons for this. Firstly a one word answer is more likely from a child on the street, than an entire coherent sentence, particularly if it means that they have to look up and break their concentration from the video game they are playing on the latest iPhone….and secondly Christmas has been abducted by commercialism and the jolly fat man in a coca cola trademark coloured suit. A third reason, if we need one, would be that religion – at least the Christian religion – doesn’t seem to have the pull it used to have when we were all “God fearing”. The churches are all but empty these days except for weddings and funerals. BUT I’m not going to get into a long rant about religion and which one, if any, is right and which one is wrong…..because I don’t know the answer. If we’re honest no one does. We can claim to know…..but it’s actually a belief….not a known fact. That’s why they call it “Faith”. However, I’ll put the lid on that can of worms because it’s not what I’m here to talk about.

I remember the magic of Christmas as a child. Christmas eve was the only evening of the year that my parents could get me and my brother to go to bed early…..in the sure and certain knowledge that Santa would be coming, and the sooner we were asleep the sooner he could come and leave us oodles of gifts. We didn’t have “stockings hung with care” on the fireplace. Oh no, not me and my brother. We’d sussed out that you could get a lot more presents in a pillowcase than you could in a miserly stocking. So, we’d lay out a clean pillowslip at the foot of our beds and cover our heads with the blankets with the intention of staying awake to catch Santa in the act. Pretending to be asleep, snug and warm under the blankets, soon gave way to actually falling asleep and that was that… until morning…..usually very early morning – 6am even.

Which ever one of us awoke first we’d whisper very, very loudly to the other “Has he been yet?” And one of us would scurry to the foot of the bed, look over the edge and seeing the stuffed to overflowing pillowcases gorged with colourfully wrapped presents would confirm “He’s been….He’s been!!!”

We’d immediately leap up, grab our stuffed pillowcases and drag them into mum and dad’s room. One pillowcase left at dad’s side of the bed, one at mum’s side and me and my brother would jump up onto the bed and snuggle down in the warm gap between the two of them – excited and fidgety and eager to start opening presents. BUT, just to stretch the agony of waiting, either mum or dad…..usually mum….would get up and make a cup of tea first. Can’t have presents being opened without a cup of tea for sustenance, can we? It’s the British way!

And then FINALLY the gifts would be brought out one at a time…..one from the pillowcase on mum’s side…followed by one from the one on dad’s side, so we could all watch each gift being unwrapped and OOhed and Aahed over…..or more likely see the look of anticipation and expectation turn to the look of disappointment and dismay. It’s not that me and my brother were ungrateful little shits, it was more because mum and dad used to buy us “nearly gifts” – as in not what we actually asked for but nearly the same – similar but not – close but no cigar. Usually the decision to get the “nearly” gifts was made based on cost. There was never a lot of money in our house when we were kids, but we were well fed and cared for. So rather than buying the popular brand, they’d go for a cheaper knock off – made in China – gift that was meant to be similar but didn’t usually come close. This was back when “made in China” meant cheap and crappy – now EVERYTHING is made in China. Then there would follow the arguments….or should I say animated discussions…. about why this particular gift is “So much better” than what we’d actually asked Santa for. And whilst demonstrating how much better this toy was….a bit would drop off and so it would be consigned straight to the rubbish bin. An example of a nearly gift would be “Lego” building bricks – that we had asked for and didn’t get – and the “Chad Valley build a home set” that we did get, with flimsy plastic panels and plastic beams with little lugs to affix the panels to….which would snap or split the first time you touched them. OR the time my brother asked for an Action Man toy – a soldier….the doll for boys lol. BUT got some cheap Chinese copy with a squashed head and a leg that kept falling off.  OR, sometimes they would actually surprise us and really push out the boat by buying a top brand item…well made….lasts for ever….expensive even. BUT again not quite what we’d asked for. My bike was an example. All the kids on our street had “scrambler” type bikes with big 20 or 24 inch wheels and cow horn shaped handlebars that made them look like speedway bikes – they were so masculine they almost reeked of testosterone – and we’d race around a dirt track in the edge of the local woods on them until we were sweaty and covered in mud. What did I get? Well….the brand was Raleigh – a top brand and very well made, BUT it was a commuter type bike with tiny 14 inch wheels with white tyres (I mean WHITE! Who ever invented white tyres needs to be shot. They’re only ever clean looking before you ride the bike. After that they are forever dirty.), and a carry-rack on the back complete with a white shoe box size and shaped saddle bag, with a delicate little strap and buckle on it, to match the white of the tyres, seat and hand grips. Oh JOY! It looked very feminine! It screamed “Sissy on a bike – please beat me up!” It was orange which was all that differentiated it from the bike that a girl up the street had….hers was purple, but otherwise identical in every way. I was shocked, embarrassed and depressed – rather than elated and excited – what mum and dad were hoping for – and then dad tried to sell the idea of this new bike to me by saying “If you notice just here….the columns for the handlebars and the seat extend, so it’ll last you for ever, no matter how much you grow.” It really added to the whole experience.

But a bike, sissy or not, is still a bike. I’d take the bike on long rides well away from the village, in the hope that no one would see me on it. The only good thing good about that bloody bike was that it had a battery powered siren – rather like the sound of a police car – instead of a bell. This was just an added torture though, because even though I wanted to sound the siren – because it sounded soooo cool – I didn’t want to draw attention to the fact that I was riding a girls bike! It was purgatory! And it wasn’t only confined to toys…it was the same with clothes. Winter in Britain is bloody cold and I’d asked for a duffle coat which for boys came in one colour – just like the original Ford motor cars – you could have any colour as long as it was black. So I was expecting a black coat with a tartan interior to the hood and plain wooden toggles as buttons. What did they get me? Exactly the same coat as a girl in my class at school was already wearing….kind of a blue and black herringbone pattern. It wasn’t that it was a bad coat….just that if a girl already has one….it’s a girls coat!

Enough of my reminiscing….and wallowing in self pity. I learned from the feeling of discomfort and disappointment suffered as a child….. and therefore inflicted the same on my own kids! No I didn’t….at least I hope I didn’t. I hope that we bought them…or I should say…I hope that Santa BROUGHT them what they asked for rather than us being “Nearly” parents. I must say, when you have kids of your own, Christmas retains that magical feeling. The excited anticipation of Santa’s arrival rubs off on us adults too and we actually….through our children….enjoy Christmas and all it’s crass commercialism. When my young sons went off to bed straight after dinner on Christmas eve to get to sleep early……I’d hide outside their bedroom windows and ring little bells…..pretending to be the bells on the reindeer pulling Santa’s sleigh. It kept them awake for hours and meant that they’d be so exhausted in the morning that me and the wife would be able to sleep in for an extra hour or two.

These days though, our children have grown up and flown the nest and since there are no grand children (yet) to pamper, Christmas has sort of lost it’s magic. What I do enjoy most about it these days, is the simple act of gathering family and friends around the table for Christmas lunch. Togetherness….AND being that we live in New Zealand, in the southern hemisphere, which means that Christmas falls in the middle of summer…..we’ll be gathered around the dining table outdoors, in the garden, in the sunshine, in shorts and t-shirts…..table laden with food and drinking a nice cold beer.

However, having been born in the UK and having first experienced cold snowy Christmases, it feels alien to me to have Christmas in summer, which is why – even though Christmas day always falls on December 25th – it always seems to sneak up on me, catch me unaware and unprepared so my Christmas cards always miss the last mail for the year….always arrive in the northern hemisphere to friends and family there…late! AND having only mailed them yesterday I have inadvertently kept up this unwanted tradition – they will be late yet again.

New Zealand Christmas lunch in the garden.

I wish you…..and all in the WordPress family of bloggers, writers and readers, a very merry Christmas and a healthy, happy and prosperous (as opposed to preposterous), New Year.

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