By Holly Downes
The chaotic Christmas mornings filled with ear-splitting squeals at Santa’s visit, dramatic tantrums over being forced into an uncomfortable dress and secretively scoffing Cadbury chocolates before 9 am mass are now moments I reminisce upon in my looming adult years. Christmas was once a time of childish anticipation, grimaces at the Brussel sprouts on my plate, and bickering with cousins over who could play the next Mario Cart game – associations that have sadly vanished into thin air.
The night before Christmas was one my younger self adored. Ensuring Father Christmas was well-fed, my brother and I carefully placed a small glass of milk, a homemade mince-pie and a couple of carrots for the reindeers just in time for the showing of The Snowman – a treasured tradition in our family. Settling down on the sofa into our parent’s arms in our matching Fair Isle pyjamas and Santa socks gifted from our Nanny, my brother and I’s excitement was uncontainable.
Religiously refreshing the Google Santa tracker came as second nature to us. Seeing him deliver presents to homes over the globe made our stomachs jump with anticipation for the morning activities. Whilst my misbehaved brother’s thoughts were dominated by the fear of being on the naughty list following another unnecessary tantrum, my thoughts were purely if I was going to get the Barbie and Ken Dolls Fashion set I had specifically asked for. Worn out from the excitement of such thoughts, my father lulled us to sleep by reading our family’s Christmas classic, Christmas comes to Moomin Valley. Oh, to be a child again.
Bursting into my parent’s room in the ungodly hours of Christmas morning is now a distant memory. Tip-toeing downstairs with wide-eyed energy, the feeling of opening the door to the playroom is one I will always remember. The eery silence of the room, the soft glimmer of the Christmas tree lights, the half-eaten mince pie and carrots, and most importantly – the overflowing stockings and a towering pile of presents.
Locking eyes with my brother and sprinting to the magical appearance of gifts, it became a race to tear open as many as we physically could. Beginning to be swallowed by masses of holly-tree wrapping paper, my parents videoed our reactions on the family camera to add to the overflowing collection – videos that send us into uncontrollable fits of laughter years later. As another Barbie doll and Lego set was torn open to add to our excessive collections, the whole day was dedicated to playing with our gifts and sneaking in bites of chocolate at every possible moment.
Yet, after discovering the heart-shattering fact that Father Christmas was a mere fantasy, the novelty of Christmas slowly wore off. It became a day to preserve the innocence of my brother. Pretending to be shocked when our Christmas wish lists were taken by Santa’s elves. Pretending to hear the reindeer’s hoofs on the roof in the night. Pretending to be surprised at the gifts that magically appeared under the tree. Christmas became a season of acting, a time of living up to a fantasy that forced me to confront the harsh reality that I was no longer a child.
Yet, whilst I used to mourn this inevitable truth, sulking and sighing at my brother’s admiration of Father Christmas, I slowly outgrew the superficial meaning of Christmas. The childish association of Christmas only as a time to fulfil my dreams of owning every toy in the Argos catalogue disintegrated as I got older.
Instead, I came to appreciate the joys of Christmas. The joy of nestling up on the sofa to watch another cringey Netflix Christmas film. The joy of gathering around the dining table, paper crowns on the head, waiting to indulge in my father’s renowned Christmas roast. The joy of embracing, appreciating, and enjoying the company of those closest to me.
Learning that it is the little joys that make Christmas special has been a pivotal moment in my life. The thought of the upcoming festivities now fills me with a wholesome feeling of warmth. Wandering around Christmas markets showered with independent stalls selling homemade tree decorations to locally produced Christmas puddings. Hands wrapped around a Belgian hot chocolate admiring London’s Christmas lights fill me with excitement. The desperate hunt for the perfect present for friends and families on Oxford Street are moments I cannot wait to experience again.
Whilst I reminisce on my childhood Christmas experiences, the changing meaning of Christmas is simply a part of growing up. It is not something to spark feelings of melancholia, but something to be celebrated – in the end, we cannot believe in Father Christmas for the rest of our lives.
Illustration: Adeline Zhao