It’s not easy for me to admit that I don’t like Christmas. Saying it out loud makes me feel like that sad little person who poops on everyone’s party. I deeply wish I could love the buzz that this holiday spawns but try as I might the cheer just isn’t there.
“What’s not to like” you might wonder… the answer is probably buried deep down in me and entangled within the fabric of all the Christmas memories that for me used to make this festive time a joyous occasion; one that reminds you of all the little things that matter.
I thought about it long and hard to try to get to the bottom of this pitiful well of dislike for this holiday season which I used love so much. This is what I found: good memories are great because they stay with us. Not so much when we tend to compare them to the present time and expect them to deliver the same results when things have inevitably changed.
As an only child I’d look forward to all the lunches and dinners with my family on my mother’s side: uncles and aunts, my cousins and my grandparents. That to me, was as exciting as waking up to find the gifts under the tree. It was the camaraderie of it and sharing of the moment in mindfulness without a thought for the next day but simply enjoying that time together.
Plus, having 2 whole weeks off school was a massive bonus for little me, as I never like it.
The smell of Christmas
What did Christmas smell like?
A mix of winter cold air, fireplace smoke and satsumas and clementines peel slowly burning in the fire. Before the city became littered with flats and apartments, most people still had a fireplace in their house, mainly to cook meat and fish. Usually, after eating, the fire would still be burning so people would gather around it. They would eat citrus fruits or crack some roasted nuts while watching TV and then throw the clementines’ peel and nut shells in the popping fire. I still remember that smell when walking home from Sunday school; it’s etched in my nose and has now become a scent bottled by my memories. Although rare, I sometimes can smell something similar in the air here in London. It’s usually the smell of chestnuts being roasted and sold in the streets… but for a nano second It’s like travelling back in time.
The Christmas tree
Our Christmas tree had always been a joint effort between my mum and I. My mum would always take it more seriously than me while I would just rummage through the decorations boxes finding my favourite bits and bobs. We had real glass decorations which I was never allowed to touch as they were so delicate they would break at the slightest draught.
Every year I would make sure my 2 favourite Santa decorations were still there and all in one piece. They were 2 roundish Santa, very smiley and both had a soft beard I would constantly stroke and touch. They always had to be right on the front so I could look at them every time I’d walk by on the way to my bedroom.
My mum always had a good eye for visually attracting displays. She would carefully select the smallest baubles and decorations to go on the top of the tree so they could be visible, while the biggest ones would go at the bottom. She would place 3 sets of lights and each set would light up at different times; then, due to our tree being a little old and scrawny, she would strategically place all the tinsel in a way that would make it look really puffed up and healthy.
For many kids the “Ooh aah” moment is always placing the star or the angel on top of the tree. Not for me, because our star was always really heavy and would constantly make the tree lean on one side.
What I loved was placing the angel hair on top of tree and let it cascade over the branches. I don’t even know why I found it so fascinating; today I actually find those silver strings unpleasant to look at and really tacky.
As much as I liked all this build up though, the best bit was and still is, the switching of the Christmas tree lights.
To me, they absolutely still make a Christmas tree and in my world one colour themed trees are not allowed. We always had lots of colourful baubles and decorations that held a special meaning and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I am not interested in my tree looking smart and elegant in a corner of my house. The more colours the better as far as I’m concerned.
The tree stopover
Every evening I would switch on the tree lights
and then stand there for a while, admiring
that fluff of colours. I would try to guess what
lights might come on next and see if I could
memorize the flashing pattern. The radiating
colours in the dark made me feel at peace and
content. I wanted them to last forever.
I would also try my luck and be daring by touching
a glass decoration or two…
yes you guessed it…
they all got broken in the end.
There are only 3 Christmas presents that remain imprinted in my memory from when I was a child. The first one was my Cicciobello doll. That was the year I spent Christmas Eve at my cousins’. We decided to get up to check if Santa had already done the rounds and funny enough he had! We’d been trying to quietly open the boxes when my uncle and aunt heard us rummaging in the hallway. We managed to run off straight to our beds and hide under the covers before my uncle reached the bedroom. Needless to say he didn’t fall for it and my cousins blamed me for having the idea to get up and check on the presents in the first place.
The second gift I remember was my first bicycle. I had wanted one for the longest time because my cousin already had one. I remember feeling both intimidated and disappointed by it: that bike looked absolutely huge to me.
Then I realised it wasn’t just my imagination… my parents had bought me a bike that was for and older child, as money was tight, they thought it would be best to get one that I could use for a longer stretch of time rather than having to learn on a beginner’s one. So the bike sat there for I don’t know how long because I couldn’t even reach the pedals. Imagine being given a gift and then being told that you can’t touch it. Charming uh?
The third present I remember, and in my opinion the coolest, was my first pair of roller skates. I learnt very quickly how to skate through sheer determination and lots of falls and scuffed knees but it was worth it. I spent hours skating in the streets by our house; back then it was still possible to play outdoors without being abducted or flattened by a lorry as we didn’t live by a main road and the area was nowhere near as busy as it is now.
My cousins and I had our personal Santa who would come to visit us every year after our Christmas Eve’s dinner: our maternal grandfather would sneak off to a different room, quickly get dressed up and then re-appear as if out of nowhere carrying tiny presents, the only ones we would be allowed to open before Christmas Day. This worked for a few years until one Christmas I eventually cottoned on to the whole thing: I looked closely at Santa’s shoes and found they looked rather familiar… after foiling the plot and unable to keep it to myself, I ruined the magic for my cousins too by saying out loud:
” Those are granddad’s shoes!”.
In retrospect I find my boldness a bit unusual because when my mum used to take me to see Santa in the city centre I’d feel so embarrassed I’d end up hiding or crying.
As mentioned at the beginning of this post our Christmases have always been about family. For me in particular, it’s never been about the presents themselves, I would actually die from embarrassment every time I received a gift (during Christmas or birthdays).
It was never about the food either as I can’t remember anything special about it except the few things you would only have for the festive holidays like roasted nuts or the traditional Italian panettone cake.
What mattered to me was having the rare chance to interact with other people in an environment that wasn’t my house. We would always be invited at someone else’s because my parents and I lived at my paternal grandparents’ for years and later moved to a house that was far too small to invite more than 2 guests at a time.
The best and most memorable Christmas is the one we all spent at my GrandDad’s. We were all there, including our relatives from Milan. There were so many of us we had to set up a table in the hallway.
And then eventually all this stopped… no more sparkles, no more Christmas magic, slowly extinguished once granddad was no longer with us.
He passed away on Christmas Eve 1994, a date that has now become a cruel reminder of our Christmas past that will never come back. I left the country 6 months later, having decided to live in London and thus creating a wider gap between what was and what could have been.
Christmas abroad is very difficult, not just because of the distance between my family and I but also because it’s not always possible to travel due to work commitments or simply because the cost of a flight is out of this world. My grandparents are no longer here and they were the glue that kept us, “fleeting post-it-notes”, together.
What I see now isn’t Christmas to me: people run around looking for items to buy in a mad rush towards the finish line and the prize is whatever is the latest thing you can get your hands on. Most times, the price of what they’re buying has more meaning than the thought behind it. Everything seems to have a price tag.
Time, family, friendship and closeness are taken for granted. It’s nice to show love with a little gift but Christmas has become a commercial and cynical ploy that plucks at our hearts’ strings through Christmas ads, yummy foods and enticing gizmos that tempt us, whether we can afford it or not and if you can’t afford it there’s always a credit card.
Believe me, It’s not easy loving Christmas when amazing memories work against you.
Every year I try my best to get into the spirit and make my Christmas as special as I possibly can, despite the long distance from my parents who would love me to go back home every year while I’m feeling split in two between them and my partner.
As much as I try, It always ends up becoming a tug of war between making an effort to
make sure Christmas still has that special meaning and those memories you’ll never be able to live up to.
Every time without fail.
Although, in my defence… how can you beat having a GrandDad Santa?