Christmas is a stressful time for mums, with never ending to do lists and budgets being stretched beyond breaking point. Can you look past all that and still remember that magic feeling you had as a child? It’s hard work, but Rachel wants you to try…
When you think back to the Christmasses of your childhood, can you still remember that magical feeling? Don’t cringe at the word magical. Just try for one second not to be cynical. Don’t just try and remember that feeling, try and feel it. Can you put yourself back in that place, in that headspace, of the child you were? I can, just about. But it takes a few nudges in the right direction.
That magic of Christmas was real – it is real. It’s hard to actually describe what I mean by ‘magic’ though. It’s not religious, but it is other worldly. I remember going for a walk on Christmas Eve with my Dad and my brother, we must have been 3 and 5 or something, and seeing ghostly faces on gravestones in a churchyard, then when we got home we saw dinosaur shaped clouds in the night sky. Bonkers, I know, but that’s what I remember. It did happen though, because anything is possible at Christmas. Fact.
Sure, I also have loads of great Christmas memories that most people would be fairly familiar with: frantic unwrapping of presents with puffy eyes and a bad case of bed head; tucking into a turkey-and-all-the-trimmings dinner with my mum all flushed from several hours in a hot kitchen; bemoaning my Dad’s choice of choral Christmas music which I now love; being dragged to church and waving to my school mates over the pews; and, in later years, mad Christmas Eve drinking sessions that resulted in a somewhat lacklustre appetite the next day…
But, great as those memories are, when I say magic, what I’m specifically talking about is that feeling when you hear a particular song or see a photo and you remember what magic Christmas held as a child – for the lucky ones at least. It’s tinged with melancholy, definitely a little bit sombre, spooky even. Think of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, which is essentially a ghost story. But a transformative one. Christmas is about transformation. A period of celebration and lamentation at the end of the year, before we ring in the new year and a make a load of resolutions we most likely won’t keep.
During this period called Christmastime, normal rules go out the window. Not only do we get time off school and work but we miraculously create time to see friends for drinks (even though we are SO busy and would NEVER usually make so many arrangements in such a small space of time); we make friends with people we may have fallen out with during the past year; we give money to charity even though we’re well into our overdrafts. We go that extra mile. Because it’s Christmas.
Throughout history, amazing things have happened at Christmas. Most of us are familiar with the story of The Christmas Truce. In fact, Sainsbury’s turned it into a Christmas advert this year. During WW1 on Christmas Eve some English soldiers in trenches overheard Christmas carols being sung in the German trenches nearby. They joined in. Not only that but each side came out of their trenches, hands aloft in peace, and made friends. They introduced themselves to one another, swapped food, drink and cigarettes, even played a game of football. This is a true event, one that encapsulates the real magic of Christmas.
The film above was made in conjunction with the Royal British Legion. I know cynics amongst you will dislike the fact that it was made into an advert but it’s a good reminder, if nothing else, of an astounding act of humanity. Ignore the fact that Sainsbury’s made it. If it means that kids found out about this extraordinary act then that’s a good thing in my eyes.
Carol Anne Duffy wrote a poem about it, called The Christmas Truce. Here’s an excerpt describing the moment the British soldiers joined in with the German chorus:A Scotsman started to bawl The First Noel and all joined in, till the Germans stood, seeing across the divide, the sprawled, mute shapes of those who had died. All night, along the Western Front, they sang, the enemies – carols, hymns, folk songs, anthems, in German, English, French; each battalion choired in its grim trench. So Christmas dawned, wrapped in mist, to open itself and offer the day like a gift…
Artists are still
inspired by Christmas – thankfully it’s not all based on nostalgia. The original Snowman (made 32 years ago!) for me totally encapsulates Christmas Eve in 20 minutes or so of pure magic. But I also love the new one, The Snowman and Snowdog. I’m so happy that this generation has a great piece of Christmas culture to claim as their own. The music by Andy Burrows sends shivers and is now a must on all my Christmas playlists. My brother is mad on Christmas music, and has inherited the family’s Christmas LP collection. As well our shared love for classics by Nat, Bing, et al, he’s introduced me to ‘cool’ modern festive tunes, like this album from Sufjan Stevens.
For me, being raised a Catholic (now lapsed), church did play a role in Christmas, and I am so glad it did. I personally do still feel some level of faith, spirituality, call it what you want – especially at Christmas. On the rare occasions that I attend church, like the other day for a Christingle service that my son’s school held, I feel very serene, very at peace – ‘at one’ with the world, I guess. Of course, Christmas isn’t just about church, despite the fact that much of what we celebrate today, whether you are an atheist or a believer, is directly a result of the Christian faith.
The ‘winter festival’ aspects, which are derived from so many sources as wide ranging as 1950s Coca Cola adverts and Paganism, also make up a large part of the Christmas experience. These signifiers evoke warm nostalgic feelings – and are the source of what most of us associate with Christmas. I think it’s amazing that a secular society like ours celebrates a festival. It’s a proper festival, too: feasting, decorations, music – the works. I truly believe (hope) that we still collectively celebrate Christmas for the magic rather than the commercialism of it all. Take all the shopping and gifts away and you’d still have a bloody amazing time, so would the kids – well, after they’d wept for an hour or so. In our family only the kids get presents (we sometimes do a Secret Santa thing for the adults). As you grow up, the importance of presents wanes, as you can pay for your own stuff. You realise that what you really loved about Christmas is all the other stuff: the sparkles, the smells, the warmth of others. The magic.
Of course, it’s really all about family – and friends too. As a kid, the four of us were all together, all of the time. But as you grow up those occasions are few and far between. Sadly this year my mum and dad are in Spain and my brother and I aren’t able to be together. But that’s just how it is. We know that next year we’ll make up for it in a very special celebration. As a married woman my husband and I take turns to have Christmas with each others’ families – it’s the only fair way. Of course, there’s the annual Christmas get together with old friends from home, mine is tonight! Past years have been a little bit… debauched! As we’re getting older, our target for tonight is for no one to fall over…
Seeing my kids go through the same rituals and excitement as we did is emotional. Last night I read them an old copy of Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer, a tatty book that was read to us as children. They were rapt. Creating new traditions is important too. This year we started the Elf on the Shelf thing. On Christmas Eve he came to stay (my son was dreading it, I think he was imaging a human sized elf when I told him in advance, so was quite relieved to see that he’s as only as big as a curly wurly). Each morning there is evidence that he’s been up to mischief in the night. We also started a thing last year where we write a letter on their behalf to Santa, which they ‘sign’, and then we put it ‘up the chimney’, with it eventually burning to a crisp. We explain that Santa has a special way of receiving the information – and they totally accept that as the truth. That complete innocence never fails to astound me. And that innocence is at the heart of the magic of Christmas.
And it’s still in you, too. Are you too far gone as an adult to find it?
>> Check out Rachel’s ’20 songs… to get you all Christmassy’ playlist on Spotify!