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HAPPY HOLIDAYS FROM ERASTES
OLD AND NEW
Christmas was very important in our family. Not in a religious sense, we never went to Midnight Mass or anything like that, despite Mum being Catholic, but in a way that it was important for Mum to get as many of the immediate family and close friends around the table as possible.
She would start her cake at the beginning of September and would put it in a cool place and drizzle brandy onto it once a week. One year the dachshunds managed to get the lid of the box open and ate down about three inches of cake. We found them groaning in their baskets and stuffed as full as draught excluders.
The preparation was always meticulous, she would make it look easy on the day by having so much done in advance.
There were so many silly Christmas traditions that were part of our family. For a start, we had the oldest and most useless set of nutcrackers in the world. They were “grandfather’s nutcrackers” e.g. belonged to Dad’s Dad – like this set – only black with tarnish and age. The only one who had the strength to operate them was Dad, and they’d ruin just about any nut they cracked. Walnuts were too round and too slippery and would skid off around the room to be chased by dogs and children, Brazil nuts they would cut in half and you’d have to pick out the nut fragments and shell. we kids learned to crack hazelnuts with our teeth, because the queue to get your nut cracked was too blooming long. These nutcrackers actually broke the year after Mother died. I still keep the bits. The funny thing is that a nutcracker is a good gift idea but no one ever thought of buying one, because then we’d have nothing to complain about – oh, apart from the Pick ‘n Mix…
Another Christmas Day tradition was “Moaning about the Pick ‘n Mix” – Pick ‘n Mix for those of you not in the know is a vast array of loose sweets (from Woolworth) where you can pick and choose what sweets you buy. Sadly, since Mother’s death, Woolworth has died too (hmm – am I seeing a theme here?) and although I’m sure other stores do Pick ‘n Mix it isn’t ever going to be the same.
The trouble is that—of course—everyone’s tastes are different. And “Choosing the Pick ‘n Mix” was—for some odd reason—Dad’s job. Mum would send him off on his expedition and he’d come home with a bulging bag of sweets which were then hidden away in case anyone scoffed them. Like the dogs.
But on Christmas day, when they were put into a bowl, it was always a bone of contention because Dad chose only the sweets HE liked and we all had to put up with hard toffees, coffee creams (I mean, REALLY), Parma violets, liquorice allsorts, Pontefract cakes… well, you get the picture. MANLY SWEETS. The only ones I liked were the Keiller’s Butterscotch. And so the whole family moaned and moaned about the sweets and Dad got ribbed all day. But strangely enough no one ever brought alternative sweets or took over Dad’s job. The day wasn’t the same without crappy Pick ‘n Mix.
We weren’t allowed to have the TV on at all—Mother would say “the television will be there when you are dead” which isn’t much use when you really really want to watch Disney Time. These days there’s no Disney Time anyway, and I’ve always seen the Big Afternoon Film so there’s nothing lost there. I do watch The Queen though. Just because.
I tried, the first few years after she died to keep up a traditional Christmas, but now Dad doesn’t really know, or care that it’s Christmas or Belgium I’ve stopped decorating his house and getting a tree for him. (One year he dismantled the tree on Christmas night and I came around on Boxing Day to find it in the garden and all the decorations put back in the loft – so it’s not worth doing.
It depressed me a bit, because I felt I was letting Mum down, but then I thought: Hell, now I can start having the sort of Christmas I like! So I started making my own traditions. I have a fake green plastic tree and I use the fairy that Mum passed on to me when she replaced her with a New Angel (there was dissention in the house that year!) – Fairy has to have her net skirt puffed out with steam (which is tricky with a kettle that switches itself off) but I do it anyway. I also have one of those Swedish Candolier thingies which I leave on all Christmas Eve, kind of a blending of Irish and Swedish traditions there – the Irish light every light in their houses on Christmas eve. Not to guide Father Christmas but to welcome Jesus.
I do dad a nice dinner, but I don’t bother with crackers and turkey and stuff – neither of us can eat a 3 course meal these days and as I said, he doesn’t care it’s Christmas anyway. So we have a nice roast and I sit and think about Mum a bit.Then I go home and start my new traditions. The animals all get tinsel necklaces, I watch all the TV I can stomach – I eat cheeses I like, like Brie and Camenbert, all plastered onto Jacob’s Biscuits for Cheese. I drink fizzy wine chat online to whoever Is around watch as much tv as i want!! Merry Christmas!
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