“Right kids, you’re not getting Christmas stockings this year.”
Cue disappointed faces and shocked tones: “But Mum! We’ve been so good!”
“Yes, but you are nearly 30.”
It’s that time of year when newspaper columnists and bloggers reflect on going home at Christmas. On how they fall into being children again, embraced by the love and warmth of family. On the funny ways of parents, or how old family tensions get replayed. I used to identify with that, but my parents are no longer alive, and my husband and I are the parents our adult children come home to.
I love that they do. I am never happier than on the night before Christmas, when they’re home, and I know that they’re safe. But I don’t love the time and anxiety which goes into producing Christmas stockings for everyone. Thinking of 20+ presents for a proper stocking (nylon, stretched into a long snake of knobbly parcels with a chocolate orange in the toe) for all four of us is a big challenge. What’s useful, fun, inexpensive, and not too bulky to carry back on the train – times eighty? I enjoy coming up with inventive home-made presents, but it’s still an annual effort. I somehow imagined they’d want to spend Christmas with other people by this stage.
The obvious answer is to drop that bombshell, and stop. Except that while a part of me wants to stop being Mum and filling stockings, another part of me is the child who loves opening them. This tradition of us collecting on the big double bed, still in our dressing gowns, with the stockings snaked over our laps, comes straight from my childhood. As we take it in turns to feel then unwrap gifts, and I do my dad’s thing of salvaging scraps of wrapping paper to reuse next year (and the next, and the next), I am connecting with my own family’s traditions. I love our Christmas day rituals. Why would I even contemplate losing any of them before I have to?
While I don’t echo his atheism (and our Christmas weather is cold), I’m always moved by Tim Minchin’s song White Wine in the Sun. He perfectly captures those twin longings of child and parent. As an adult child, he looks forward to going home for Christmas, and “seeing my dad,/My brother and sisters, my gran and my mum./They’ll be drinking white wine in the sun.” As a parent, he assures his daughter that if as a young woman she finds herself 9000 miles from home at Christmas, she can know that “whatever comes/Your brothers and sisters and me and your mum/Will be waiting for you in the sun.”
I’m moved because my parents are gone, and because, as a parent, I want to provide a place of safety, love and welcome for my children. Yet I know that one day, they will create their own Christmas day traditions. One day, we won’t be here for them to come back to. I hope they’ll look back with fondness to the laughter and jumbled togetherness of our stocking-opening. It might cost me something to lay it on, but I’m going to enjoy it while I can. It’s OK kids, there won’t be any bombshells from me this year.