24 December 2006

A Developing Christmas

I had intended to post something about Hilaire Belloc's wonderful essay about Christmas in a Catholic house at the turn of the century. But something happened. My daughter, who turned thirteen a couple of weeks ago, decided that she was going to pack, not just her present to her mother, but all of mine too. "Daddy: you just don't know how to wrap".

I tried to rap: "Yo! Today is Christmas Eve. Better that you all believe!"

"No, Daddy. 'Wrap' with a 'W'". (Try that contemptuously, if you don't have a thirteen year old daughter of your own. If you have one, you'll understand.)

So we went into the back room and she packed while I kept the conversation going.

"And can we have all the presents under the tree tonight? It's not as though anybody thinks that Father Christmas is bringing them." So for the first time since my children were born, the presents aren't going to "appear" under the tree on Christmas morning.

The End! My little girl isn't a little girl any more!

42 years ago tonight, I went to Midnight Mass for the first time. Sr Anthony, who was in charge of the altar boys, had decided that it would be "lovely" to have all the altar boys in procession. It was the first time I heard the expression "bloody nun!" and the first time I remember my mother swearing. I was sent to bed at seven, and woken up at eleven with the first cup of tea I remember. I can barely remember the Mass: I was seven, and there were only about four of the altar boys had anything to do. The rest of us dozed. When I woke up in the morning I found a garage for my Matchbox cars which, I discovered years later, my father had made. I also discovered that my parents' tradition - of exchanging Christmas presents after Midnight Mass - had gone by the water forever (well, at least until we were old enough to stay up after Midnight Mass).

Christmas isn't a time of unchanging traditionalism: it's a time of changing traditionalism. We will have turkey and sausages and bacon and roast potatoes and roast parsnips and carrots and peas and cauliflower and broccoli after the smoked salmon on potato cakes because we always do. We won't open presents until we have come home from Mass. But the presents are different: they aren't toys any more. And we are different, and our children are growing and, in my case, my parents are both dead. And my wife had major surgery earlier this year and took a long time to recover from it; we found yesterday that we haven't spent much on each other at all: it had dawned on us separately that just having each other is the best present of all.

But my children are growing in Faith, and my parents are present because at Grace before our Christmas dinner we will pray for them, and for other members of the family who have died.

And we will enjoy Christmas with our children, knowing that they will end up doing their own Christmas, without us, in the same way as we broke away from our parents' Christmas, as they had from theirs.

It will be the same traditional Christmas and it will be completely different. The one unifying factor is the Baby who will be born to die and save us all: that's why we know that none of the rest really matters.


Moretben said...

Lovely post, Tony - thank you. God bless you and your family.

Nos cum prole pia
benedicat Virgo Maria.

Anonymous said...

Indeed. All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.

Thanks Ttony for your very moving post.

Mr Bleaney