“ ‘Twas the night before Christmas when all through the house not a creature was stirring not even a mouse…”
I don’t know how many times over the years my husband and I have read this beautiful Christmas poem to our children while they were growing up.
When they were little, the whole month of December’s nighttime reading was dedicated to Christmas tales: The Little Match Girl, The Magic Toy Shop, The Wishing Star and more. But unlike those of Scrooge in Christmas Carol, my memories of Christmas past, are filled with happiness and with our own-created traditions.
In my husband’s – English – family, they had this odd thing that the presents could not be opened until after the Queen’s speech, and the speech was not broadcasted until after lunch, in the afternoon. Can you imagine? Can you imagine trying to keep the children away from opening those tantalizing, what-can-be-inside, beautifully wrapped presents in colorful papers with curled ribbons trailing everywhere?
By the afternoon my arms had grown several inches from all the times they been tugged at.
“Mummy, Mummy is it time yet?” they would come and ask in turn.
“Not yet darling, but it won’t be long now.”
And off they’d go whiling away the time trying to figure out which of the presents might be theirs, and what might be inside. Being older, Florentina learned to read first, and it was her job to read the gift tags on the presents and tell Andrew which were his.
Early on I advocated on behalf of the children, and “started” the tradition that they could look into their Christmas stockings as soon as they woke up if they wanted to.
Then the first time that we had Christmas at our house I started the “tradition” that even before the Queen’s speech, the children could each chose a present to open.
Then, when we moved to the States, the deal was that as soon as they could get Mummy and Daddy to come downstairs, the unwrapping could begin.
But you see, having had to wait until “… all through the house not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse…” before getting the presents out of their hiding places, and arranging them around the fireplace before we could go to bed… well, it took a bit of stirring before they could get us to get up. But in our defense, let me explain that starting with Florentina first, then Andrew and finally Robert, they would start trying to wake us at six o’clock in the morning!
But even in our somnambulant state, blankets up to our faces, we smiled and laughed at the sound of steps going up and down the stairs, “Here comes Florentina, hide under the blankets.”
“Here comes Andrew.”
“It sounds like Robert it’s coming up now.”
So much happiness, so much fun.
One of the sweetest memories is of Andrew going to bed virtually after dinner on Christmas Eve; that way, he explained, Christmas morning would come sooner. Then when he woke up – EARLY – he’d go downstairs, lie on one of the sofas, enjoy a prime view of all the presents, watch the Christmas specials while sucking on one of the English sherberts from his Christmas stocking, before starting to wake people up.
Toward the end of High School and certainly when he started college, Andrew gave up his early morning vigil. Having himself been for years his sister’s apprentice on the art of choosing and giving out presents, from the pile around the fireplace, the time came when Andrew trained his younger brother Robert, in this highly skilled craft.
And another thing, not only did Andrew indulge in all manner of intellectual pursuits, he also enjoyed baking, and for the last six years or so, he indulged me by baking the special apple cake we’d have with tea on Christmas day. Florentina’s interests, on the other hand, resonated more in the Tiramisu’ department, while Robert gravitated somewhere else entirely. Well, he’ll have to step up this year.
I’ll go now, and I’ll do the best I can. Everyone tells me: “You have to do it for your other children,” and I will. But it isn’t peeling onions that makes me cry this year.
Oh Tigs, it’s so damned hard without you! You’ll have to do whatever you can from where you are, to help get us through this.
Right then, I better get up now and make a start on the prepping.
Love you Andrew.