As I awoke, I could not believe the day had finally arrived… “It’s Christmas, it’s Christmas! It’s here today, it’s Christmas!” It took me a while to engage my brain as I recovered from my deep slumber until I realised, it was indeed Christmas.
I’m probably wrong (though it doesn’t seem so to me, observing my grandchildren opening their presents year on year) but the Christmas excitement seems as relished today as it was when I was a child. I clearly remember the countdown as the calendar rolled into December and preparations in the home jumped into gear: flour and water, cutting up left over coloured paper used for making kites into thin strips, remnants you’d kept stored for this big occasion, pasting away on the kitchen table looping them together one by one to form a chain and hanging them up from wall to wall. Your mum then sending you off to the place nearby where they had large ovens where many families would take their turkeys, lamb or what have you, because not many homes had large enough ones. You had to book by late November or very early December if you wanted to have your food cooked in time for that special day.
Thinking of sawdust sprinkled on grocery shop floors and bars on rainy days reminds me of Christmas too, and of course the toy shops, especially Sanguinetti on Cornwall’s Lane, as well as Cazes and the Emporium, both on Main Street. They were a joy to visit. I recall writing to Santa and posting my letter in the post box at the Cazes store hoping to get the Royal Marines Band lead figures, which I longed for throughout the year as I stared at the box of bandsmen in Sanguinetti’s window. And as the days slowly went by and numbers on the December calendar moved on up, getting closer and closer to the 25th, the smell of chestnuts roasting on the tower of saucepans standing on a street corner next to the `edible nut’ vendor would fill your nostrils. During that run-up to Christmas day, my annual sneaky ritual of taking a Christmas goodie such as a polvorón or mantecado from mum’s ‘Christmas cupboard’ would be executed, and it all added to the incredible festive atmosphere truly heralding that the Big Day was nigh! During those weeks in late November and early December, mums would begin to stock up that Christmas shelf or corner in one of their kitchen cupboards with nuts, dry fruits, and the ever popular Spanish tasty treats like, polvorones, rosquitos, alfajores, turron… Not to mention the fruitcake, a Christmas pudding, a bottle of anis, extra flour, sugar and butter for baking and other bits and pieces. It was all an event which went on with great expectation for the imminent, longed-for day of the Christmas season.
Christmas presents were modest in my household as in many homes then during the 50s and 60s. I remember getting a rifle with a wooden handle and tin barrel one Christmas that had a cork for a bullet attached to a piece of string fixed to the rifle so that your precious `bullet’ didn’t go astray down a drain or in a hole somewhere. That year, my neighbour gave me a plastic water pistol to complement my armoury. As a second present I would probably get a pair of socks. I was a happy bunny! We’d then go out onto the neighbourhood street to show our friends what Santa had brought us and they’d do the same.
Unlike today when some kids get everything and more, most of the kids during my time would pretty much receive gifts relative to their parent’s monthly income and what little they’d been able to save over the many months leading up to Christmas. However, on my street, there was a kid whose parents were quite well off and he, one Christmas, was given a spanking new, shiny, tricycle the rest of us only dreamed we would one day get… or never get. Somehow we were never jealous of the rich boy. We were happy with our lot and simply got on with it playing with our modest gifts. What we see today, as I recall my grandchildren when they were much younger watching from the sidelines, is an over-the-top amount of presents coming at the kids from all sides, to the point they begin to rip off wrappers, take a quick look at the item, fiddle with it for a a moment or two, discard the it and move on to the next gift 15 times over! They don’t seem to appreciate what they’re getting and probably have something similar which was given to them last Christmas or at any given time throughout the year because granny or granddad are invariably Mother and Father Christmas every six weeks or so during the year!
Nowadays the older ones get the latest digital gadgets, expensive iPhones or tablets and perhaps a motor scooter to boot. There also seems to be an increase of presents being given on the Feast of the Epiphany on the 5th or 6th of January, which I don’t recall being so much the case in my day. But I suppose one has to concede, if it can be afforded and everybody’s happy, so be it, good luck to them and enjoy; it’s Christmas after all.
But reminiscing a little more, the build up to the happy day as I remember it, was enhanced by dressing up in your pyjamas or other attire, grabbing a tambourine, a ‘sambomba’ (a type of clay pot – vase shaped, held under your arm – with a short cane poked through the skin cover that produced a bass-y sound when you ran your wet hand up and down the cane), an anis bottle which you stroked with a spoon on its uneven surface with protruding bits making a crinkly-cranky noise and perhaps, if you were lucky, a proper musician who had a guitar or mandolin would come along to complete the group – the comparsa. So off you went from door to door singing festive tunes in the hope those doors would open to offer you a glass of Malaga wine and a Christmas goodie. As you travelled along the streets on a chilly, crisp, Christmas night you’d meet up with other like minded individuals and their comparsas, some a little worse for wear, clearly having been out for much of the evening and obviously successful at being met by open doors…
It certainly was, to coin the well worn phrase, ‘the season of good will’ bringing glad tidings. However, I suppose it probably is as exciting for the young now too, as they look forward to Christmastime perhaps in a different way. As I recall yuletide during those halcyon days the atmosphere as the Big Day approached was tangible, it was there fast approaching and you could feel it. It was a wonderful time of the year… the Christmas spirit had indeed arrived!