Last week I was training up two new Lexonik teachers at a school in Gloucester. It being both a junior school and mid-December, three days before the end of term to be precise, excitement was at fever pitch. Tried and tested training suit discarded in favour of a natty reindeer knit, I headed past the nativity-adorned stage towards the canteen to collect the much-anticipated festive lunch. Sometimes the stars just align.
In a world of ever-accelerating change, it’s strange how familiar this all seems, and how reminiscent of my own junior school days back in the 1970’s, when the season was ushered in by a Blue Peter advent crown, daringly combining a holy trinity of metal coat-hangers, tinsel and naked flame. Not that our parents were overly concerned. Probably too busy necking advocaat and balancing ashtrays on the arms of their flammable sofas as they waited for the chip pan to heat up.
Anyway, how do you feel about Christmas? I’m guessing our answers say as much about our age as they do about our belief system. One minute we’re all bright eyed and bushy tailed, going to bed early and listening out for sleigh-bells in the snow. Next thing we know, our eyes have dimmed, our tails have drooped and we’re counting down the days to the post-holiday recycling collection.
And what do you think about all these advent calendars? A few years back, a bit of cheap chocolate behind a cardboard door was enough to set you up for the day. In 2021, it’s not so simple. Advent calendars have diversified, mutated even. The opportunities are endless. Everyone is catered for, from the herbal tea lover to the true crime fanatic. You don’t know whether you’re going to get an elderberry and echinacea or a head in a bin.
This in turn links to the well-worn complaint about the over-commercialisation of Christmas – all that money wasted buying inappropriate gifts for people we weren’t quite sure about in the first place. These comments echo down the ages, right back to the time when Mary asked Balthazar if he’d got a gift receipt for all that lovely myrrh. Again, more of an adult complaint, though of course if you don’t like what you’re given you can always re-sell it all on eBay, which at least gives us something to do on Christmas afternoon.
After a while, all our holiday memories coalesce, as entangled as a box of fairy lights at the back of an attic; it’s only the more random incidents that stand out. Like the time we took the Year 7s on an overnighter to Lille Christmas Market, only to spend most of the day marooned in a coach park in Calais. I can’t quite remember whether we watched Home Alone 2 three times, or Home Alone 3 twice.
Or the Christmas Eve when, working solo at the city farm, my mid-morning mince pie was interrupted by a passer-by popping their head around the door and asking if that was one of our Shetland ponies galloping down the road. It was indeed! Grabbing the nearest harness, I set off in hot pursuit, through the tunnel and up the hill past the climbing centre before eventually cutting her off just before she hit the retail park.
But by far my strongest Christmas memories are from that sweet spot of childhood when you’re just old enough to enjoy, but still too young to fully understand.
Look at me polishing off an entire Cadbury’s Selection Box before lunchtime, and then staying up till way past 9 o’clock to watch Christmas TV!
Look at me with my first wind up watch and Casio pocket calculator, ready to Take On The World!
And here I am again, wedged into a Boxing Day sofa between impossibly ancient elders, chomping on chocolate and sipping their way through the sherry as they bicker and bitch over the sprawling afternoon movie.
“Of course, those two were having an affair when this was made. Left his third wife for her, he did. I think he might be dead.”
“He’s not deaf!”
“I didn’t say he was deaf, dear, I said he was dead. You’re the one who’s deaf! And stop putting the wrappers back in the tin.”
And then, in a blink of an eye, we’re back in Christmas present. Like a value-added opening sequence on The Simpsons, we’ve all switched places on the couch, but also moved up a generation. The children are the adults now, there’s a new gang of whippersnappers hogging all the cushions, and I’m writing addresses on greetings cards for my nonagenarian mum.
But look, we can’t stand around gassing all day. The clock is ticking, and there’s stuff to be done. I’m off to buy some last minute presents. Happy holidays everyone! And if, like me, you’re a refugee from the ’70s, fingers crossed for a Wombling Merry Christmas!