All the Christmases of our childhood blend into one when we think back over them. In that distant dimension dominated by mittened carol singers, predictable pantomimes, by tea-towelled shepherds and the bunfight to play Mary in the school Nativity play, the endless end-of-term concerts, Her Majesty’s telly-message, Morecambe & Wise, Only Fools & Horses Specials and some enchanted Disney or other on ice, we always knew what to expect, even when we didn’t. We felt safe. Night skies were black, and the moon and stars twinkled. The earth felt peaceful and kind. At least, it seems that way now.
In my memory, it was always snowing at Christmas. Jack Frost patterned our bedroom window panes, no two swirls ever the same. We roasted chestnuts over logs and togged up like Eskimos, merely to trip to the corner shop for milk. We looped paper chains and newspaper lanterns across ceilings, twirled tinsel around our picture frames, spruced the spruce with every trinket we could find, and chopped holly and ivy from the garden to deck the halls. As for the Christmas Eve ritual: a letter up the chimney for the blackbirds to wing to the North Pole, express delivery. A bowl of milk and a carrot for Rudolph, a brandy and a mince pie for Father C. The annual cuddling among the cushions for a reading of the must-hear poem, ‘The Night Before Christmas’ by Clement C. Moore, which anyway we knew too well by heart.
The movies – ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’, ‘Miracle on 34th Street’, ‘A Christmas Carol’ – have never quite been out-sobbed by ‘Home Alone’, ‘The Polar Express’, or ‘Elf’. The chintzy music – Slade’s ‘Merry Christmas Everybody’, Wizzard’s ‘I Wish it Could be Christmas Every Day’, John and Yoko’s ‘Happy Christmas, War is Over’ and countless more, have never to this day been out-melodied by Mariah Carey or Wham! The die-hard Elvis and Sinatra albums, the angel voices and choral medleys, to which we sang along as we watched the turkey, wallowing in cakes and biscuits, nuts and satsumas, in Jelly Babies and toffee and fudge and humbugs and sugar mice and Quality Street. We crackered and ballooned, paraded and charade-ed in Sunday teatime-smelling rooms. Glassy-eyed, gluttoned and gorged, we were. No Christmas night was ever silent.
All showbiz, of course. No other season lends itself so well to glam and glitz and revelry. But it’s more than that. Christmas is also a longing for lost youth, a Yuletide yearning for the magic of innocence. Our vaguely ridiculous, fake snow-sprayed rituals represent a passing-on of tradition to our children, who will sooner or later hand it on to their own. Returning each year to our younger selves, revisiting who we once were, and the experiences that inspired us, we are reminded of what was once good, and of what mattered.
The past, we know, is irretrievable. It will never be again. What rescues us from the hopelessness of this knowledge is hope itself. For what else reunites loved ones across time and space, regrouping, redeeming and reassuring us in the face of an uncertain future, but hope?
As we bring you more family favourites and sparkling entertainment than virtually any other channel this festive season, we wish you magic and miracles, hope and happy endings, and the merriest little Christmas of all.
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