I was a ‘war baby’ in a big, poor family when food was rationed. But there was nothing poor about our Christmas mornings. I shared a bed with two, sometimes three brothers. We’d leave our stockings downstairs so Father Christmas could fill them before tip-toeing to our bedside. I was always a bit anxious about him getting us kids mixed up. Full of excitement, we’d lie in bed wide awake talking and listening for those heart-stopping footfalls that were usually false alarms. The strain of waiting inevitably took its toll and eventually conversation faltered then ceased as one by one we succumbed to sleep.
We woke in the early hours and scrambled around grabbing what we thought was our stocking. Somehow we always managed this without conflict. The orange or tangerine at the bottom was a given, and a great treat. There would be an apple too, nuts, lollies, chocolate gold coins for instance. Perhaps a top and whip with coloured chalks for decorating the top, and for playing hopscotch in the street. Maybe a yo-yo or wooden monkey suspended from two sticks. A cheap mouth organ. Comics like the Beano and Dandy. Torches were another given, and for good reason, it was still dark.
We’d make a tent under the blankets, flicking our torches on and off, whispering excitedly, munching noisily, and reading our comics with utter contentment.
Like most parents with magical memories of Christmas stockings, I carried on the tradition. There were differences, of course, between what I was given as a child and what I was able to provide as a parent, and the stocking was only part of it. But, I suspect, a central part. Thus my oldest daughter’s cherished memory:
“I remember the cherries and the odd brazil nut, hence hours of entertainment trying to break it open. Roses Chocolates, fold-up scissors.... But what I remember most is the huge sense of expectation and excitement. Beginning with the big ritual of choosing the sock. One of Dad’s, the biggest one available!”
However, there is the uncomfortable fact that Father Christmas is a lie perpetrated by parents. How do we justify this? While the discomfort has always lurked in the back of my mind, I think about that rare and good act of giving without strings, standing back and allowing children the pure joy of receiving without feeling beholden to any earthly adult. As my children now do in preparing the loving deception on my grandchildren, who are learning the joys of digging into that wonderful, mysterious world we know as the Christmas stocking.