When I look back at Christmases gone by, it’s with a strong feeling of nostalgia. It’s common that Christmases become decreasingly anticipated and incrementally less of an event as you get older. I guess it makes sense, the novelty of most things wears off after a while, and why should Christmas be any exception? In fairness, I think Christmas only becomes significantly less exciting when you stop being a child and become a teenager. Your parents, probably mentally fatigued from having to keep thinking of new presents to buy you every year, and whose own personal novelty of having children having probably largely worn off, begin making less of an effort to make it a big occasion, particularly after they’ve either told you that Father Christmas doesn’t exist, or you find out for yourself.
In my case, it was technically a combination of the two. You see, I used to get a present from Father Christmas every year, which would be hidden somewhere in the house. One year I found the present behind the mirror in the dining room (an inconvenient and dangerous place to leave a present, I thought), and remarked internally that it was an odd-shaped box for the Xbox that I’d asked for, concluding that it must be a special limited edition slim version, and proceeded to unwrap it with the same reckless abandon as Gemma Collins at a buffet after a three-day juice cleanse. To my shock and incredulity, what was revealed upon the unceremonious unveiling was not a Slimited (new word that I made up just now) Edition Xbox, but instead, a 300-piece jigsaw puzzle of two kittens. I was confused, this was surely a gift for my octogenarian great-aunt that Father Christmas had misplaced during his busy shift (I mean, he is half human after all! Or is that Jesus?…). Desperate for answers, I looked up at my parents and asked what kind of sick joke this what that Father Christmas was playing, and told them that whatever the punchline was, I didn’t find it funny, and that he would be hearing from my lawyer. Well, when they rather sheepishly explained to me that this wasn’t a joke, and that this really was my present, my entire world came crashing down. I came to the sudden and crushing realisation that Father Christmas wasn’t real. How could he be? What sort of omniscient and supposedly benevolent and just granter of wishes would give a good little boy such as me a gift that was so diametrically opposed to what I had asked for? The jig was up. I was woke. I’d stepped behind the curtain, and I didn’t like what I saw. I became inconsolable in the sudden knowledge that society, and our entire reality was a fabrication, designed to oppress and mollify the youth, and distract us from the issues that mattered. I wept like Leonardo DiCaprio in Baz Luhrmann’s ‘Romeo + Juliet’ when he finds out that Juliet has committed suicide (spoiler: they both die). Yes, I may partly have been crying because I didn’t get the present that I wanted, but I was also crying for humanity, and for countless lies that had been told to our society’s children, perhaps the greatest untold tragedy in history. No one told me that Father Christmas wasn’t real, they didn’t need to, the lie was plain to see. I guess you could compare it to someone being involved in a natural disaster or a religious institutional cover-up, and wondering what sort of god would allow such things to happen. Anyway, that’s all in the past now. I’ve moved on. In fact, I almost don’t recognise that young, naive, 18-year-old Ollie. I think I became a man that day, and the experience taught me to be more skeptical about the propaganda that The Man (I’m looking at you, Mum and Dad) tries to sell you . But to this day I find it hard to trust people and let down my guard – it’s something I’m still working on.
Anyway, although our family has never been one that celebrates occasions or traditions in a big way, I think if you were to draw a graph of ‘Parental Christmas Effort’ over time, you’d see a sharp drop after that particular Christmas (See ‘Chart A’). Obviously as a child you’re showered with presents from everyone, and naturally this gradually comes to an end, and you eventually get treated like everyone else (although I’m a slight exception because for the vast majority of my life I was the youngest in the family, and was therefore given slightly preferential treatment. And also because I deserve it because I’m great). But in truth it’s not really the presents that I miss about past Christmases from my childhood (although that was a bloody great perk).
I’m the youngest of four siblings, with a sister and two brothers, each being 14, 11, and nine years older than me, respectively. Because of this age difference, the timelines of my siblings and I were obviously vastly out of sync. For example, by the time I was two my sister had moved out of the house, and by the time I’d reached secondary school both my brothers had been to and nearly finished university. So apart from a few short periods where they came back and lived at home for a bit after university, from the end of primary school onwards I was practically an only child.
Although after they moved out they came home most Christmases (apart from my sister, who moved to America), there’s something I miss about the Christmases when my brothers still lived at home. There was something about us all being under the same roof from at Christmas Eve through to Boxing Day, probably because it was a time when I saw my brothers a lot more than I do now, which is a shame, but a simple result of everyone growing up and having their own lives.
Thinking about those times, there’s also a nostalgia for the memories of when some family members were still around, such as my grandfather and my grandmother (on separate sides of the family). For me, when I think of Christmas I think of the times when we were all together, and everyone was under one roof celebrating, relaxing, opening presents, watching movies, and laughing, and those are good memories. Some of the best, in fact. It’s a sombre feeling knowing that things are never going to be as they were, and that there are some people who I’ll never be able to celebrate Christmas with again, but that’s obviously something that everyone goes through, I’m not special in that regard. But despite how universal this experience is, it doesn’t make it any less dispiriting.
But this is the natural circle of life, which repeats itself over and over again, and excitingly in the last couple of years both my brother and sister have had their first child with their respective partners. This year will be the first year that we’ll get to celebrate Christmas with my nephew, who’s the loveliest little lad that you could ever hope to meet, and I can’t wait to make every Christmas a special occasion whenever he’s with this side of the family to celebrate. I also can’t wait to hopefully spend Christmas together with my niece at some point soon, whom we all miss massively from over here on this side of the pond, and wish we could see more often.
Whenever it is that my partner and I decide to have a family, I want to make Christmas and birthdays an event – I want to really celebrate traditions. And by that I don’t mean just buy loads of presents, I mean make days that our children will look forward to and remember. I’m only 23 so this talk is quite premature at this point in my life, but it’s something that I think about, especially as I’ve gotten older and especially around this time of year. Christmas really is about bringing family together, but in our case we don’t have much extended family, so there’s never been much family to bring together. Fortunately, however, given the number of siblings that I have, hopefully in the future we’ll be able bring our respective families together for Christmas, when we each have one, and make each one a meaningful occasion.
So tomorrow I’m looking forward to spending time with my family, a family that I’m very lucky to have. We’ll doubtless have some delicious food cooked by my awesome mum, open some presents, and then watch one of the traditional Barrett-household Christmas movies, such as Home Alone (1 and 2), The Grinch, The Holiday, and Love Actually (I won’t have anyone say a bad word against Richard Curtis’ modern classic), traditions that will hopefully be continued for generations to come. It’s going to be great.
So, for all of you (‘all’ being my mum and my partner) reading this and those of you not reading (the rest of the human population), I wish you a happy Christmas and hopefully you make the most it. To kick your Christmas day off right, here’s the famous ‘Gift Wrap’ scene from Love Actually, with the great Rowan Atkinson and the late, great Alan Rickman. Another reason to be nostalgic. Enjoy.