Christmas - past and present, some cynical scroogy moments to consider
The first Christmas card was designed for one Mr.Henry Cole of London. Circa 1843. Bully for you Henry. You created a monster.
Henry had his cards illustrated by John Callcott Horsley. The first card shows three generations of a family, all raising a glass to toast the recipient.
It’s alleged that the picture of children drinking wine may have proved controversial. One thing is for sure, it wouldn’t pass muster today.
During the 1860s the most popular card featured a dead bird. Deceased and lying on its back, tiny stiff, stick legs in the air. The verse - 'Sweet messenger of calm decay...’ I could use a few of those.
In fact it’s a good idea to keep your eyes peeled - many of these cards are valuable and a sought after item today.
One of first Cole/Horsley cards, sold in 2001, by UK auctioneers Henry Aldridge, for 22,250 GBP.
I could use one of those too.
Christmas hospitality is not so much acquired as thrust upon you. This happens to a selected few. Around September the compliments start flowing. You immediately get the drift.
‘Entertaining is your forte. You’re brilliant, always so organised. And your place is perfect for a crowd of people. And your decorations - out of this world.’
Translation - you are the answer to host Christmas lunch, afternoon tea, and dinner. As if there was a question.
In true tradition the show goes on as you juggle lunch for 25 people. Despite two vegetarians, one vegan, one diabetic, several dedicated low fat dieters, and two turkey allergies, you soldier on.
Christmas hospitality can cause Christmas crisis. Consider the number of blended families. Which parent do the children spend Christmas day with? Ditto for stepchildren. Ditto for children of third or fourth marriages. This accounts for several sets of floundering grandparents who are trying to fathom who is who.
Hospitality can turn to into hospital. They are open for business on the 25th.
I have much respect for the bible. My upbringing cemented it. I adore the nativity story, Christmas carols, and never miss The Messiah on Christmas Eve.
However, reading the nativity story the authors don’t necessarily engage us with detail. (I’d like to say this is because they were male but I’d be accused of political incorrectness.)
Just when it's getting interesting they say - And it came to pass…
Imagine the tabloids headlines if they were publishing today. Investigative journalism would be rampant.
They would need full coverage of Mary's reaction to:
- Joseph not booking ahead.
- How and where was the water boiled?
- The suitability of giving birth surrounded by curious animals. Lack of hygiene would be a major problem.
- No epidural
- Did she need stitches? – Joseph was a carpenter not a doctor.
- How pleased was she to see her visitors? Some shepherds arrive after having a rendezvous with an angel. They would be interviewed in depth.
- Three wise guys arrive by camel bearing unusual gifts. Another scoop.
Of course all social media would be involved too. Impossible to keep silence and reverence in today's marketplace.
Christmas is a difficult time to stay sane. Hands up anyone who hasn't chucked a wobbly (aussie for losing the plot) before December 24th. Queuing, parking, shopping, packing, unpacking, wrapping, unwrapping, cooking, baking, partying, and smiling, smiling, smiling.
Surely this would drive a person of the meanest intelligence around the proverbial bend. Don't ask me how I know.
Gifts for the Male
What to buy for the man who has everything. I asked a friend for her advice on this subject. See below -
Clearly men of a certain age are the most difficult to buy for. Give a guy a watch or a fountain pen and he's bewildered - 'I've already got one.' This does not happen to the female who knows that the odd diamond or whatever never goes astray.
For the patriarch of your family - guide the offspring in the right direction. Spouse may be hinting for word games but you've only just disposed of the last lot. You know how patronising he can be. - ' Keep on reading the dictionary dear'.
Pity the dictionary is online now - it made a handy weapon.
He may be a rocker from way back but enough is enough. He owns an Elvis clock with ticking legs. It's in the shed with the Julie Christie posters, the skull table lamp, the dancing coke tine, and the Brad Pitt face mask I once bought him.
It's a good idea to hint to the kids, something suitable like - 'Have you noticed they're offering a really good special on a cruise to Tahiti. Dad would love it. Two for the price of one. Jane and Mike's kids have presented their Pa with tickets. Isn't that thoughtful.'
How much has Christmas has changed? Here's a bittersweet recollection from the past -
It was a special Christmas the year Billy and I turned seven.
Billy lived across the fields from my home; we were best friends. We would always live in this village. We could not imagine any other place.
On the morning of Christmas Eve the dull, grey, North of England village turned into fairy land. Thick snow glittered and sparkled,transforming the world from the roof tops to the cobbled street. Snow flakes danced past the windows which Jack Frost has painted with intricate, feathery , designs.
This glistening world beckoned – it was time to build snowmen time to taste icicles, time to pelt the church kids with snowballs. Billy and I were Chapel kids – there was an ongoing battle. There was no time to waste.
On Christmas morning soft snowflakes waltzed softly, whirling their way to the muffled earth. Clattering down stairs we found Dad clad in my mother’s red dressing gown a crepe paper hat on his bald head. Up early he had lit a roaring coal fire.
I opened the gifts in my stocking - crayons, a colouring book, Dandy annual – I loved Desperate Dan and his cow pie. Tangerines and apples, dates and figs. A celluloid doll dressed in pink and silver tulle.
There was no sign of the dolls pram I had secretly asked Father Christmas for. Billy arrived clutching a bright red engine instead of a bicycle. We said nothing of disappointment.
We were soon rewarded. In our back yard was a surprise. Dad had made us the biggest sleigh anyone had seen. The hammering, grumbling and loud cursing of previous nights was accounted for.
Dad was no handyman. His claim to infamy had been to fit a pane of glass into a broken window. In his enthusiasm he’d shattered the larger adjoining window. Mum still hadn’t forgiven him.
Delicious as Christmas dinner was we wanted to be outside with our sledge. We said grace, ate quickly – roast chicken, sage and onion , crispy potatoes. Sticky plum pudding with brandy sauce that made our eyes water but we ate it anyway.
Just as soon as we could escape Billy and I and the sisters raced outside. Together we slid down the mountain that was once our back street, leaving behind any disappointments. Our sleigh knocked the socks of any others. Even kids from the church end had nothing to compare with this. This was sweet victory.
Unbelievably our parents joined us and they too shot down the icy slope. Mum wearing her well preserved ancient fur coat fell off with a thump showing all her underwear.
Dad - enjoying his new found popularity didn’t swear when he lost some skin of his bald head. After all he was now a famous carpenter.
Back home we thawed out around the fire, experiencing throbbing pain as the circulation returned to our fingers and toes. Mum served piping hot mince pies and we’re allowed a glass of port wine. 'The King' we say and clink glasses.
Dad smoked his once a year cigar and read us stories. We were unbelieving about Bush Christmas – surely there was no such place - where children rode horses to school and the sun shone at Christmas.
Tiredness hit us quickly. Billy was carried of to the spare bed, while the pseudo Santa carpenter tucked me up. We both knew Billy and I that the snow would never melt, nothing would change, this pristine, white world belonged to us.
How wrong we were. Billy died the following may. The whole tenor of my life changed too.