Childhood Memories of a West Country Christmas.
If I looked carefully I could spot exciting looking parcels piled up on my mother's tall wardrobe. Signs appeared on my sisters' bedroom doors: 'Do Not Enter' or 'Please knock.' Rustles of paper smoothed from last year's presents accompanied shrieks of 'Don't look!' Soon presents began to appear beneath the Christmas tree. It was easy to identify those from Judy because they were the most imaginatively wrapped and tied in tinsel bows with coiled ends. My own were rather lumpy with lots of Sellotape. This year there were tiny presents with the tags saying 'With love from Stephen' in my mother's handwriting, because he was only three months old.
At last the school term ended and excitement mounted. When I helped unpack the large cardboard carton from the grocery delivery I found boxes of Turkish Delight and jellied fruits, nets of mixed nuts and boxes of dates bearing pictures of camels beneath palm trees. I loved to see these far away places in my mind and imagine visiting them.
One evening we heard the sound of singing: the carol singers had arrived. The front door was thrown open to 'Hark the Herald Angels Sing' with the singers' breath pluming in the cold night air. As they crowded into the hall they began on one of my favourites, 'The Holly and the Ivy' finishing with the very best: 'Silent Night'. My mother and sisters handed round mince pies and hot drinks, while the mistletoe attracted stolen kisses and giggles amongst the singers.
With just two days to go, my father went to the local market and returned bearing an enormous turkey. My mother plucked and eviscerated it and lay it the roasting tin in the cold pantry. Would it fit into the oven? The next day I helped pick Brussels sprouts and select potatoes from the shed. My sister, Colleen, peeled and cut the potatoes into chunks and placed them in cold water while Alison prepared the sprouts, putting them in a saucepan with a tightly fitting lid. Everything was ready.
That evening we all sat around the blazing fire, the presents lay expectantly beneath the tree and for once bedtime could not come too soon. Would I see Father Christmas? Of course I knew the reality but never had I spotted my parents delivering the gifts to the stocking hanging on the end of my bed. Pyjamas on, I climbed up on the window sill to look out into the night. Would it snow? The weather forecast was predicting it. Please let it snow.
I awoke early in the morning and could make out the satisfyingly lumpy shape of a filled stocking hanging on the end of my bed. I knew it was still early because all was silent outside. Light on, I woke Alison and together we tipped the brightly packaged parcels on to our beds along with the familiar apple, with a shilling stuck in it, from our neighbour and the tangerines and nuts in the tip of the toe. Delights of chocolate, coloured pens, crayons and colouring books, story books and toy animals for my farm set were unwrapped while Alison found books, stationery, toiletries and accessories as befitted her twelve years but the chocolate was exactly the same. As we tasted the chocolate we heard the hum of the electric milking machine start up. As always, our father had an early start. Cows needed milking and animals needed to be fed as on every other day. We made our way down to the kitchen for a light breakfast, while our mother battled with stuffing the turkey and checked there were sufficient potatoes and sprouts.
His morning chores completed, my father, carrying the daily gallon jug of milk and a smaller jug of cream, came in for his well-earned breakfast. He then changed in to his Sunday suit and took my sisters to the morning service while I helped set the table, both leaves extended, in the sitting room. I spread the white cloth, usually reserved for Sundays, and set out the cutlery with a cracker at each place. By the time everyone was home from church, the kitchen was steamy with roast turkey and the pudding was having its final two hours. Father sharpened the carving knife and carved the turkey. Everyone carried their own plate piled high with turkey, crisp roast potatoes, sprouts and carrots, bread sauce and gravy to the dining room. Father said grace and we all tucked in. Stephen lay in his carrycot. Next year he would be able to join in.
Plates cleared, our mother brought in the pudding with a sprig of holly on the top. The jug of fresh cream accompanied it. We pulled crackers and read out the silly jokes and wore the paper hats which slid off at every opportunity. After dinner we sat around the fire while the family presents were exchanged: toys, games, books and clothes. We played the games, modelled the clothes and began reading the books. The huge box of chocolates from our neighbour was passed around and I waited my turn in agony in case someone chose the Turkish Delight or the Orange Crème but to my relief both were still there, only to give me the terrible decision of which to choose.
We played consequences and charades and as darkness fell, my father changed back into his working clothes for the afternoon milking, Judy and Colleen went to help with the feeding and bedding the animals for the night while Alison and I helped wash up and set the table for tea later on. Somehow there would be room for turkey sandwiches, fruit trifle and Christmas cake.
Before bed each of us arranged our presents in a pile, with a smaller pile for Stephen, to be enjoyed all over again tomorrow. Tired and happy I went to bed wishing it could be Christmas every day, but I knew that next year I would have anther lovey Christmas just like the all the others I could remember. In the night the snow began to fall.