Christmas Memories

Christmas Day will be here in less than a week. The street decorations have been lit for the past month. Black Friday and Cyber Monday have come and gone. The retail stores are counting their footfall and profits, and wondering whether there will be a last minute rush. Children are writing their Santa letters, and parents are ignoring their ever increasing credit card spending.

Am I the only one who wonders, in the midst of this spending frenzy, where the magic has gone, the simple pleasures, and the enjoyment of what was once a religious festival.

Memory Lane is sometimes a place it’s better not to visit. Everything in the past wasn’t perfect, and life for many has improved substantially, but in the process maybe we have become more disillusioned and less satisfied with the simple pleasures of the past.

However, the temptation to wander through Christmases past is beckoning. There were no expensive presents left in the stocking I pinned up every year when I was a young child. But then, in those days we didn’t know what the most popular gift of the year was, because we had no television to tell us. The savvy children of today would be horrified to be presented with those bygone stockings. There was an apple and an orange in the toe of the stocking, a few nuts, a half-a-crown (12½ pence in today’s money), and your special present. In my case it was a book, often one of the Chalet Girls series or something similar. The book usually cost two shillings (10 pence in today’s money). And that was it. Did we miss out? Not really, because we didn’t know anything different.

I’m not sure when it all changed. I remember getting a bike one Christmas, when I was a bit older. And the book increased to include an annual, usually The Broons or Oor Wullie, favourites in Scotland. So there was a gradual change.

Then, after I was married, we tried to give each other a ‘good’ present at Christmas, and as the years went by and we became a bit more affluent, we could afford to spend a bit more. But it was still the simple things that thrilled the most. The pillowcase (notice how the size has increased from the stocking) my husband filled for me every Christmas and left at the side of my bed on Christmas Eve after I’d fallen asleep, so that I could imagine Santa had visited during the night. It always contained my favourite perfume, a box of chocolates and various nick-nacks he’d gathered in secret over the preceding month. And of course, the books, four of them. I never did find out how he found out what I wanted to read, but his choice was always spot on. I think I loved that Santa sack more than the special present he always bought me as well. It was worth more than diamonds to me.

Alas, I lost my husband ten years ago, so no more Santa sacks. I still get Christmas presents from all of the family, and I appreciate what they give me because they put thought behind the gifts. But I do miss that Santa sack and the thrill of waking up to find it beside my bed.

But times have changed, and I am as guilty as the next person of racking up the credit card to an unimaginable level in the pursuit of the perfect present for my friends and family. Of sending bigger and better Christmas cards, and of suffering the throes of anguish when I have received more cards than I sent, and can’t remember who I’ve forgotten.

Oh well, let’s leave Memory Lane behind. I’m sure none of us would want to return there, we’re far too busy enjoying the benefits of a modern lifestyle.

A happy and enjoyable Christmas when it comes, or if you prefer a quote from one of my friends – “Bah, humbug!”

Chris Longmuir


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Lydia Bennet said…
Another lovely nostalgic post Chris, I've been remembering childhood presents and how excited we were by the magic of Christmas even though the presents were few and not expensive in my household either! The magic of Santa and the sleighbells in the frosty air which I'd distinctly hear are free. But as you so movingly describe, the traditions we create in our own families change and are changed by time, people go and arrive in our lives and Christmas marks those changes.
Chris Longmuir said…
I don't know whether to be happy or sad about that Lydia. I suppose we have to move with the times or be caught up in a time warp.
Mari Biella said…
A lovely post, Chris. We never had much money when I was growing up either, but the excitement and happiness of those childhood Christmases is unforgettable. Now, even though I've got at least a little more money than before, I can't replicate that feeling - which gives me hope that Christmas has not just degenerated into commercial lunacy after all. Merry Christmas to all the authors and readers at AE!
Susan Price said…
A lovely post, Chris, and your husband sounds like he was diamond himself.

I agree about over-commercialisation - not just about Christmas, but other festivals. When I was a child, Bonfire Night was fiercely looked forward to and enjoyed, because fireworks were permitted on general sale only for a few days. Not only did this make the occasion more special but people (and pets) didn't have to endure the artillery bombardment, lasting for weeks, that we do now.

Ditto for mince-pies, hot-cross-buns and easter eggs - they didn't go one sale until very shortly before their respective festivals. Now they're available year-round, or for months before. Very good for mince-pie and hot-cross-bun producers - but it also makes these treats ordinary.
My best Christmas present ever was a huge stuffed horse my mum made for me one year when I'd asked Santa for a pony... family finances never did stretch as far as a pony, but waking up on xmas morning to find a bright yellow furry horse with a ribbon around its neck standing beside my bed was just magical! I still don't know how Mum managed to keep it a secret.

glitter noir said…
Lovely post. Years ago, in Charlotte, not long before the fallout with the brother I call Ishmar now, I gave presents in his toney home to his very spoiled kids. The gifts were barely acknowledged because they were so 'cheap'--$25 each was my budget that year. The niece scarcely looked up from her brand new iPhone...yawned...and said "Thanks." The nephew nodded and said nothing.
Dennis Hamley said…
I feel for you, Reb! Chris, I don't I ever had a stocking. I was straight on to the pillow case, which usually contained secondhand objects. I certainly didn't object to this because they were MINE now. But things looked up in 1944 when I got my first Arthur Ransome book. It cost 7/6, an unimaginable sum to me. My next AR cost one shilling from the secondhand booshop but I valued, I think, even more. I learnt early to spot a bargain. That's the big lesson Christmas taught me.
Sandra Horn said…
Great post, Chris - thank you for reminding me how magical it all used to be. This year, I am fed up with feeling so jaded about it, so we've been to the Mellstock Band singing old carols and reading from Hardy, Claire, etc. and, last night, to a carol concert with a splendid brass band accompaniment. Belting out 'Hark the Herald Angels Sing', O Little Town of Bethlehem', etc. made me feel good and Christmassy, even though I can't claim to be a believer. Whether we are celebrating Yule or the Nativity, it should be a glorious, magical feast and knees-up in the darkest time of year and to hell and perdition with over-priced presents.
Chris Longmuir said…
Thanks for all your lovely comments folks. And Reb, how ungrateful those kids were. Thank goodness my own granddaughter aged 13, doesn't react that way. Last year when her aunt suggested she could exchange her present if she didn't like it, her response was 'Why wouldn't I like it? It was a gift.'
Lovely post - I remember those days well. I don't think all kids are infected with this kind of thing - I know lots of them who react like your granddaughter, thank goodness. I used to get one 'big' present and the rest were small things, sometimes more exciting and interesting than the much wanted big thing. The post office set - endless fun!

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