…With Christmas almost upon us, I felt that really it’s about time I went ahead and submitted an appropriately festive post. I had a few ideas… some short, some long, some deep, some…just ridiculous. In the end I went down the slightly more personal route. I began by asking myself what Christmas represents to me, personally, rather than what it may mean to society as a whole.
I found myself having flashbacks to Christmases gone by, and from those I noticed no singular meaning become apparent. I realised that Christmas only means as much as those random memories of it which have remained, and the best ones I’ve ever experienced were as a child, when the excitement was real and raw and there was more time to enjoy it all. Since adulthood, Christmas has pretty much been about the same thing: a hangover, a day off work, food, spending lots of money on presents, and just having good times with the family and friends… which is all very nice, but arguably, a bit same-y too.
Below are the main memories from some of the first Christmases I ever experienced and can remember, from the ’80s, ’90s and ’00’s, written down just as they appear in memory (with a little help from the diaries). The recollections are brief, with details missing here and there to the extent where they may not even make sense, but these are the things that have stuck… are they similar to your first Christmases, too?
Merry Christmas everyone 🙂
Christmas 1988 – The first one I can really remember, aged 3. Spend the time bouncing up and down on my new trampoline at our house in Rickmansworth and intertwining pieces of purple and green plasticine to form ‘snakes’ with which to try and scare mum. Watch Raymond Briggs’ ‘The Snowman’ and fail to understand why he disappeared at the end as not old enough to know about the various ways in which water can change states. Enjoy the imagery, though!
Christmas 1989 – Enjoy arranging Christmas tree with older siblings. Annual appearance of god-awful decorations that have been a part of the Kemsley family Christmas since the 1970s. Much laughter ensues following the emergence from the decorations box of ‘Moody Fairy’, who we ceremoniously prop at the top of the fir once the rest is complete, ready to glare down upon us for the rest of the season.
Left: ‘Moody Fairy’ a.k.a plastic, flame-haired angel with stern eyebrows, produced from gluing turquoise feathers onto a blue cone. Probably purchased from Woolworths in 1971.
Right: ‘Grey-haired lady in car’ a.k.a ‘Pauline from Eastenders’ aka most un-festive tree decoration ever. Still features each year to this very day.
Christmas 1990 – I receive a set of marker pens, colouring-in book, and my first ever Walkman, which for the first year or so will play nothing beyond my Winnie the Pooh cassette during road trips to Kent. Creep into sister’s bedroom at 2am to open our stockings. Sister delighted with New Kids on the Block album and variety of new floral scrunchies. Tuck in to the token giant tube of Smarties before taking a quiet trip down the stairs to see whether or not there are any presents under the tree. Yes! Unable to get back to sleep due to excitement. The first one to be awake and dressed, for the last time ever…
Christmas 1991 -Starring role in the infant school nativity as ‘Narrator #2’. Also have an additional musical responsibility; clear instructions given on at what particular moment to tap single xylophone key to add dramatic effect to virgin birth. Dozens of six-year olds all running around using the word ‘virgin’ with no idea what it means, but consider it most probably linked to mode of transport experienced in recent Summer break. Mrs M’s face turns a shade of puce when asked how the baby Jesus came into being. Show starts. Mum sits proudly in the audience, probably at the back due to insignificant casting of daughter. Mary and Joseph’s parents most definitely along the front row.
Spend Christmas Eve watching ‘Father Christmas’ cartoon the whole country is raving about. Looks and sounds like big fat Barry who lives next door. Start to wonder if Santa is my neighbour…
Christmas 1992 – A Boxing Day trip to Kent to see the grandparents. In Sittingbourne, Grandma B is plumping up the cushions as we arrive. Her second husband, the retired army major, sits slumped on the settee in a mustard coloured knit jumper looking thoroughly fed up with the company and itching for us to leave. We eventually oblige.
On to Faversham next, to see Grandma and Grandad L. Smoke from Grandad’s tobacco pipe filtrates around the whole house. He plays The Entertainer on his organ, as the rest of us sit around on the claret velveteen sofas tucking in to a tin of Quality Street. The fudge diamond lures me in with it’s pretty cerise foil wrapper, so emblematic of Christmas in its own little way. To me, anyway.
Finally we stop off in Seasalter to see Nana and Grandad D. It’s the last time we’ll share a Christmas with Grandad D although we don’t know that at the time. Nana is preparing one of her roasts and repeatedly suggests I go and help myself to a chocolate from the tree, which looking back was probably just a ploy to keep me out of the kitchen and out of the way.
Cousins are in the bedroom playing Super Mario on the Nintendo, and the bungalow reverberates with a regular chorus of the menacing sounding 8-bit music whenever Mario goes underground. Serious, studious faces fixated on the screen to match. In retrospect, how the hell did people who played or witnessed this game not end up institutionalised from the insanity provoked by overexposure to this particular sound? Offending musical piece below:
Christmas 1993 – Annual attendance at the Christmas Eve service at St Peter’s church in Rickmansworth. Fusty smell, much like the one in the old hall in which we do Brownies, engulfs nave. Parents and sister whisper away about people they recognise from living there in the eighties before moving to Watford. Knock the knitted hassocks that are hanging on the hooks of the pews in front with my feet due to boredom… don’t understand a word the vicar is saying. Yawn. Want to go home… Do go home – eventually. Brother – who didn’t join us in attending church – has had an unfortunate incident with the chip fryer. House smells of chips and there is a smattering of grease on the ceiling, which in fairness may help with Santa’s descent into the house. Brother goes out to a party and the rest of us eat ham and chips and bemoan the smell.
Christmas 1994 – Santa has brought me a plethora of Playmobil, and a plush toy dwarf from Snow White. In addition, mum has bought me the video of the Disney version to go with it, but when we try to play it, it switches and jumps on the screen proffering only the grainy vision of a castle and nothing beyond. “Will need to go back to Our Price…” says mum, sorrowfully. I am secretly relieved. More interested in the Playmobil anyway. Mum only bought me the Snow White video because she wants me to be less of a tomboy. Pah to that. I have also received a strawberry-scented candle that will fumigate the whole house for the next year.
Christmas 1995 – Play Donkey Kong Country on the Super Nintendo with my sister from dawn to dusk whilst she tries to revise for her A-Level mocks. Disinterest in Christmas Dinner due to eagerness to reach next level. Sister just as enthused as I. A swift exit from the dinner table with a pause only for the Eastenders Christmas special. Frank Butcher has returned to Albert Square and the obvious chaos has ensued. Dad lets me have a little glass of Baileys provided I don’t tell my classmates. Grandma L suddenly dies a few days later, a piece of news which will be served in the form of an unexpected phone-call from Grandad during the middle of spellings practice with mum, and the fond memories of this Christmas are suddenly obliterated… the soundtrack to Donkey Kong now synonymous with funerals and tears and the unfathomable thought that I’ll never get to see her again.
Christmas 1996 – I’m in the school Christmas production, and this time playing a much more significant role, opposite Ben B. The rehearsals wear me out and I’m terrified of laughing on stage. On one occasion the laughter reaches the unfortunate point of no return. Tie pink fleece around leggings in valiant yet ineffective effort to disguise. Oh dear. Manage to keep a straight face during the live performances due to being blinded by the coloured Christmas bulbs that are strewn across the ceiling of the school hall. Can’t see a thing, which makes it much easier to perform. Get to go home from school early after watching ‘Cool Runnings’. Enjoy the consequential attempts at Jamaican accents with classmates. Spend the entire Christmas holidays watching random films on Sky, like the 1970s version of ‘Freaky Friday’ starring a teenage Jodie Foster complete with cropped nutcut. Delightfully receive bright orange Spice Girls t-shirt and silver mini-rucksack from Santa.
Christmas 1997 – My first Christmas at secondary school. Go and stay with Grandma B for a few days and have a day out in Sittingbourne. She buys me a tamagotchi and a strawberry milkshake at McDonalds. Spend the Christmas evenings listening to Ben Folds Five and start wishing I could play the piano better. Plan to ask Mr C about learning contemporary things rather than classical. Spend much of my time working on my history homework… a big old pastiche on peasants that I hope Miss B enjoys assaulting with her red biro once I’ve handed it in after the holidays. Miserable old witch. Disappointed that mum has considered the awful flame-haired fairy which has sat atop our tree for over two decades as no longer worthy of being there, and has replaced it with a boring, normal looking one. Even more disappointed that she has thrown original fairy in the bin and we will never be able to giggle at her synthetically coiffured ‘do again. R.I.P Moody Fairy.
Christmas 1998 – A seasonal German class to end term with. Teacher is a terrifying Welsh lady with luminous yellow hair moulded to her head like a walnut who spits out her consonants and shouts a lot:
“SHUT UP AND LISTEN TO ‘KLING GLOCKCHEN KLINGELINGELING’!” she orders us, before firmly pressing on the ‘Play’ button of the large, angular 1980’s cassette player with her wrinkly, chipolata-like forefinger. A traditional German Christmas song starts. As die kleine Helga sings – her jovial tones muffled through the speakers of the aforementioned antiquated equipment – the class sits very still and solemn underneath teacher’s big grimace of glee. All the 13 year olds in the room agree that this is a stupid song. Lunch bell rings. Song thankfully becomes lost amidst the sound of everybody shuffling together their books and pencil cases whilst packing away, “FROHE WEINACHTS!!” spits teacher happily as we dash out the room.
Nobody able to get ‘Kling Glockchen Klingelingeling’ out of head for remainder of day. Manifests into cathartic lunchtime singing sesh the teacher would be proud of.
Christmas 1999 – Was overshadowed by the arrival of the new Millennium. Most frequently asked question of the festive period is, ‘How many L’s are there in mileninimum?[sic]’ , and everybody everywhere is planting a time capsule as though it’s the in-thing to do! In 2010, there are due to be a lot of Polaroids and Alien Babies excavated from the ground…
For the first time, the question “What are you getting for Christmas?” is asked less frequently than “What are you doing for New Years eve?”. My answer, if anyone cares: Staying over at Emily R’s house with Rupal and Emily H, eating and drinking all evening, and poking fun of the name ‘Vladimir Putin’ each and every time it’s mentioned on the news, which remains on tv in the background in order to capture celebrations in the capital. All make individual oaths to go on London Eye. Wake up in another century and realise nothing much has really changed. Physics homework still to complete. Computer geeks across the world celebrate the lack of impact of the Millennium Bug. School-kids like ourselves are disappointed, on the other hand. We were hoping all computers everywhere would die. Forever. Most particularly those ones in the IT labs at school… could’ve resulted in an easy way out of the impending test on how to use ClipArt to maximum effect.
Christmas 2000 – Sister’s (now ex) boyfriend living with us. All on best behaviour at Christmas. The entire congregation of St Peter’s nearly passes out during the Christmas Eve ceremony thanks to the never-ending nature of ‘The Shepherd’s Farewell’ – a long, grim carol being sung by the choir – for which it is compulsory to stand. Believe the song has finally reached its cessation when after a short pause in which all had slowly started to crouch down, the organ repeats arduous four-noted bridge into yet another verse. This prompts giggles between sister and I to which lady behind gives a disapproving glare which is noted by mum, who promptly nudges us to behave. Grandma B is also with us this Christmas, and she too is at the church. Her hearing Aid interferes with the induction loop and a high-pitched whistling noise can soon be heard. Grandma B oblivious… rest of the congregation very much aware.
Christmas 2001 – We temporarily have no kitchen whilst a new one is being built. Basic food for the timebeing only. Mum spends weeks working out how to manage this over Christmas. Discover incense sticks and spend a lot of time chilling out in my room under a new, blue-tinted lighting system with home-made hanging foil stars which I am exceptionally proud of even though upon greater reflection they look absolutely shite. Revise for GCSE mocks but get sidetracked by brother’s Playstation 2 and celebrity editions of ‘Who Wants to Be a Millionaire’. Eat lots of chocolate and any other foodstuff which doesn’t require cooking. Listen to System of a Down a lot and revel in being the cliche of a moody teenager who hates “aufori’ee” and exams. Send Christmas wishes over MSN Messenger to anyone who cares and try to get my head around the NEAB poetry anthology and whether or not Maya Angelou is indeed frightened of anything at all.
Christmas 2002 – Receive an electro-acoustic guitar for Christmas and do my best to try and learn some Christmas songs. Mum unaware that I have been playing the guitar secretly during the run-up to Christmas whilst she has been at work, and has clearly not spotted the fingerprints that are already all over the neck. Receive chocolate fondue set from brother’s then-girlfriend which I manage to break within the first few minutes. Awkward. Feel very foolish. Swiftly change the topic of conversation to Popstars: The Rivals and debate who will do better out of Girls Aloud and One True Voice. Trivial Pursuit is brought out again. Sister wins and takes great pride in doing so. Nobby girl.
Christmas 2003 – Go Christmas shopping with sister and mother. Young chap in Gadget Shop flirts with sister and tries to kiss her under the mistletoe in store. I go into grumpy, typical 18-year old mode and complain that it’s “always her and never me”. General self-pitying mood lasts throughout Christmas. Sister tells me off for being miserable during otherwise lovely walk around Cassiobury Park on Christmas Day. Huff. Watch childhood favourite Lady and the Tramp for a bit of nostalgia and virtually shit self at the Siamese cat song. Had forgotten how scary it is. Grumble grumble.
18 now, and Christmas is nowhere near as fun as when I was a child…