Growing up, I was surrounded by family. We would visit grandparents every Saturday, and my Godparents on occasional Sundays (when my dad would stop off to buy some shellfish for our supper that evening). It seemed like there was a birthday party every other week for one of my many cousins, and each Christmas (my favourite time of year) there would always be huge gatherings.
My paternal grandparents would always play host on Christmas Eve, with at least thirty relatives crammed into their tiny two-up two-down house. Looking back now, I am bewildered at how we all squeezed in, but at the time I thought it was just wonderful. My Nan would put on a spread of sandwiches, cakes, mince pies and sausage rolls; all of course home-made.
The older children (aged about 5 years upwards) would sit on the cold stairs, chatting and playing games. As the eldest grandchild I would be there with my first cousins once removed, that were just a little older than me, whom I held in absolute awe. There were no hand-held electronic devices then (unless you count my prized Major Morgan), but we were never bored. We’d spend half an hour or so on the steps, allowing the adults time to natter, moving aside every now and then as an aunt squeezed by to use the upstairs loo.
Once the grown-ups had finished chatting, us children would be called into the room where we would all cram around my Nan’s feet. Once we were sitting quietly she would produce a magic snowman, no bigger than 12 inches tall, that held inside it’s hollow tummy a gift for good little boys and girls. One by one, each of the children’s names would be called out, and a gift would be presented to them. What made the snowman ‘magic’ was the fact that it contained around 8-10 gifts, each at least 4 inches wide. We would marvel at the Snowman’s astonishing, Mary Poppins’ carpetbag-esque characteristic.
Nan revealed in later years (after incessant questioning), that she would sneak the next present (hidden beside her armchair) into the snowman’s tummy, whilst we were all distracted with the present being unwrapped by the most recent recipient.
I remember every year, anxiously waiting to see if I would receive a gift; recalling all the moments from the previous 12 months that might have been considered ’naughty’. Luckily, Mr Snowman must have calculated that my good behaviour outweighed any bad behaviour, as I always received a present.
Christmas Day was always special in our house, just the five of us: my parents, myself and my two siblings. It was lovely to spend some quality time together, my dad having a few days off work.
Christmas Day was always special in our house, just the five of us: my parents, myself and my two siblings. It was lovely to spend some quality time together, my dad having a few days off work. We would have home-cooked ham with eggs for breakfast, followed by turkey and all the trimmings around 1pm. My mum and dad always went out of their way to ensure we had a magical time with lots of surprises. We’d play with our toys, eat far too much chocolate, and go to bed exhausted.
Christmas 1985 – My brother obviously found all the excitement a bit too much.
On Boxing Day, my Godparents (my father’s paternal uncle Bernard and auntie Linda) would hold a party for about 30/40 people. It was magnificent! The whole extended family would be there. My paternal grandfather was the eldest of 10 siblings, so there were many great aunts and uncles, and even more cousins and first-cousins-once-removed. I would dance and dance until I crashed out, and was laid to sleep across a wooden dining bench. They were some of the best times of my life.
When I reminisce about these family gatherings, I understand how lucky I was to be surrounded by so much love and happiness. I’m extremely appreciative for the childhood I had. I wonder what memories my children will cherish in future years, and hope they remember happy times with our family.
I’d like to take this opportunity to wish you all a very Merry Christmas, and a Happy and Healthy New Year.