“It’s not like it used to be” is a common phrase in the weeks leading up to the big day. But, why isn’t it? Sure, it’s very commercialised but that doesn’t mean you can’t recapture the magic of a simpler time within the walls of your own home. From toys and games, to food and simple gifts, this article looks at what made the Christmas of yesteryear so special, and how to recapture it.
We all have a grizzle, every year, that “Christmas starts so early these days”. We like to lay the blame at the door of the shops, bemoaning the fact that they display their Christmas stock so early. But who buys it? We do.
By the time Christmas day arrives, we’re immune to the charms of the tree. But who puts the tree up in early December? We do. And we get fed up with cards fluttering down from their strings every time the door opens. Who strings them up? Yep. We do.
So how about a bit of assertive time management. Don’t hook up to the commercial engine. Be the one to guide it.
If we’re going to hold back until four or five days before Christmas, then indulge in a barrage of fun, a bit of planning is necessary – this old-fashioned Christmas might not stretch to spontaneity. After all, it would be a shame if we denied our kids the fun of early preparation with the promise of much better to come, only to discover that we can’t deliver the goods.
One of the joys of Christmas that comes as standard is the stocking, full of cute and exciting novelties that no-one even knew they wanted. A sojourn to the shops with the kids to choose stocking presents for each other can be fun, and if the source of Christmas presents is still a sensitive point in your family, it might be worth mentioning that Father Christmas has asked mums and dads to provide the stockings this year. Hang on – I’ll just remove my rose-tinted specs before continuing…
Now, if you think Christmas Eve would be a nice time to put your tree up, you need to make sure that you have one. If you’re going for a real tree, maybe it should be ordered and paid for beforehand, but check that whichever place you bought it from is open at the time you want to collect it. If you have an artificial tree, that makes it a little easier… but we’re going for exciting, not easy.
For some people, decorating the tree is a real pleasure, and for others it’s a real pain in the arbour. If you fall into the former category, grab your kids, put on a Christmas CD, and go for it. For those in the latter category, grab your kids, put on a Christmas CD, pour yourself a sherry, and let them get on with it. Actually, that’s not the spirit. Even if you don’t enjoy decorating the tree, just do it. It will look lovely, I promise.
Ready for some of the F word? Okay, let’s talk food. The traditional “baking day” of normal, everyday life has mostly disappeared. There are some people who still knock up a batch of pies and cakes once a week, but generally speaking, that’s a thing of the past. But not at Christmas! Because at Christmas time we can play at being our grandparents, and we can pretend, just for a few days, that the world hasn’t changed and that we still live by the values of yesteryear. (I’m feeling a little nauseous.)
Right then. Let’s set aside a baking day. On that day, we’ll put on our Christmas CD, keep the kettle on the boil, and make stuff that we love, like biscuits, sponge cakes, and mince pies, trifles, truffles, and meringues. Remember, if you’ve all but ignored Christmas up ’til now, this will seem very exciting, and not in the least a drag.
A word of advice when it comes to choosing presents: for each person, buy something that can be enjoyed by everyone – at least over the Christmas period. A board game is the ideal choice, for example King of Tokyo (all about a battle between a giant lizard, a cyborg ape, and a space penguin) or Destination Paris (a more sedate game that involves driving around the French capital). If your family is full of Harry Potter freaks, how about giving somebody Harry Potter Trivial Pursuit? A family-friendly DVD, or colouring pencils also make good sharing gifts.
May I be so bold as to suggest that it all comes down to the Christmas time frame – that the root of the problem lies in the long, drawn-out slog towards Christmas Day. The modern approach to Christmas is a lonely one. With months to plan and get bits and pieces done, it’s easy to isolate ourselves. We do the odd bit of shopping, cooking and decorating when we can, which often – and sadly – means when we’re alone. As the day approaches, the horrible truth creeps up on us: this one day that’s supposed to be so wonderful will never live up to our expectations. And even worse: as the day approaches, we’re longing for it to be over.
Let’s put Christmas on hold until four or five days before the 25th. When we receive cards, let’s keep them until the 21st, and then string them all up together. Despite the fact that shops and schools have been playing carols for weeks, let’s not listen to any Christmas music at home until we put the tree up.
I’m sure that every family has it in them to make a happy, traditional Christmas. But we spoil it for ourselves by being dragged along by the hype. Like drought before rain, fasting before a feast, or chastity before a wedding… the best things come to those who wait!