If you have ever read, or seen the film of Dylan Thomas’ A Child’s Christmas in Wales you have an idea of my early version of Christmas. Growing up forty miles from him, and thirty three years after him, things were not too dissimilar.
The coal fire, glowing red and encouraged by my father for the time I climbed downstairs. The anticipation of Christmas presents in the decorated front room. The moment enhanced by the smell of cooked breakfast as I eagerly explored my presents under the tree. My mother’s disappointment as I ignored the clothes that reflected the season. Coupled with my delight at the more boyish games.
One thing that always marked the day, though, was the continuous warm glow. You just knew that the cold outside would never enter the house. Most times it snowed a week or two before, in time for our winter school break. Sometimes, however, it was so high my father had to dig his way out before we could come and go.
When I was a boy no one had a fridge, so my mother prepared the chicken the day before and put it somewhere cold. She bought it freshly killed and plucked it fast enough for the speckled white and brown feathers to cascade in slow motion to the floor. Then in the morning she begun the cooking, hours before we sat down to eat. It was an extra bonus to smell the slow-cooked bird give off its seductive aroma. A meal anticipated.
Radio, then, was king. Only one house in our street had a TV, owned by an older couple who left the drapes open for us excited children to peak at the magical images. On Christmas Day radio, specially adapted programs were broadcast. In one they sent greetings to people serving with overseas forces. These lucky recipients would have Christmas Carols dedicated to them. These were perennial favorites like Bing Crosby’s, I’m dreaming of a white Christmas. Very apt for those overseas.
Around Three O’ Clock, by the time I was red faced from playing by the fire, the call went out for dinner. As usual it was roast chicken, sprouts, roast potatoes, peas and giblets from the inside. I never liked those. Though I loved the delicious thick gravy that accompanied the meal.
Yet, before we began, we had crackers to pull. The excitement of the bang, the stupidity of the lame jokes inside and the silly colored paper hats everyone seemed to enjoy wearing, all lent itself to the festive occasion.
Our main course was followed by piping hot Christmas pudding with a white sauce. It was a once a year treat, and I often regretted it’s solitary occasion. Much later we indulged in nuts, cracked with great difficulty, hot mince pies, ate frequently, and hot chocolate made far too sugary.
The red face stayed with me till the very end as I went up to bed, full, happy and with so many presents. And of course, from my bedroom window, the snow! Ah, yes. I’m dreaming of a white Christmas too, Bing.