Two weeks ago the box of Christmas tree decorations was unpacked. Some of those decorations are from the 1950s and my own childhood Christmases. Good memories of older relatives visiting, dislodging the tree when I tried to find our whether the fairy on top was real, chocolate selection boxes, Mickey Mouse lights, making paper chains and watching my first Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers film. Also memories of being poorly and my mother being exhausted returning home from work on Christmas Eve, laden down with the turkey.
The 1960s - a different house, but similar tree and decorations. Same elderly relatives, but a change in the family dynamic through divorce and now being a recalcitrant teenager. My mother was still exhausted and the memories are more of all the household tasks that needed to be done (or did they?), rather than of any joy in the proceedings. 1967 and I was on night duty in a Children's Home. That was good and not that I knew it then, but I met my first husband too.
1970 and I had been home for a day from hospital with my week old baby. Friends had decorated the flat, but those tree decorations were still at my mother's house, where we continued to spend Christmas Days.
1975 and with a move to a bigger house, I took over hosting the family Christmas. My mother downsized and I gained a few of the decorations. I was amazed to find that despite the effort required, preparing the meal didn't have to be as stressful as I had been bought up to believe it was.
The rest of the 1970s and 1980s. We had good Christmas times. The children have good memories. A house that was only decorated the night before my daughter's birthday on the 18th, to help make it special, despite being so near Christmas. Relatives, nativity plays, carol concerts, good food, visitors, fun and laughter. Except, sometimes, behind my smile...
1990s. After the years of tradition, I'm not sure there was one Christmas like another. Family breakdown, children growing up, moving away and divorce. In 1994, my new husband asked why I was insistent something had to be done a certain way. I replied that it was because it always had been done like that, it was tradition. "And that's a very good reason to change", he replied. But I was clinging to the past wasn't I? A past through rose-coloured glasses.
2013. It's been 18 years since my last 'family Christmas'. Logistics make them impossible. But if we haven't all got together at Christmas time, we have for autumn birthdays and more recently my mother's 90th birthday in December 2010. But this year, my mother died and my husband was taken ill just before the family gathering and we couldn't attend.
The Christmas tree has gone up and the decorations placed lovingly on the tree. I played CDs of John Rutter carols, allowed some moments to become tearful for the past (the good bits) and tried to remember that I have a choice. I can't choose the first thought, but I can change the second and subsequent. On occasions I have chosen to indulge myself and not bother to change the second thought. There's nothing like a dose of self-pity for distorting the truth of the situation.
I also remember that, I can change what I do today, I can change what I do tomorrow, but I can't change what I did yesterday.
My favourite quote, which comes at the end of the book is:
“When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us.”
With Happy Christmas wishes to all the readers and see you the other side of the door of December 25th. Have fun.