So, as ever, one of my New Year Resolutions might be to blog more and as thoughts of Christmas past and present have been whirling round my head for the past week, let me share them.
My childhood memories are of desperately waiting to go through to the lounge to open those parcels under the tree. Dear old mum loved to have a long lie so there was always the worry that she wouldn’t want to get up and let us in to the lounge. And my sister Carol would never go in first in case Santa was still there so we hovered in the hall coughing loudly. Eventually mum got up and gathered her notebook and pencil to record everyone we opened, taking turns but peeking through gaps in the wrappings to get a hint of what was therein. Of course Carol knew most of hers already for she had been snooping in the top of mum’s wardrobe for weeks but I was always happy to wait for the surprise.
After the pillow cases were emptied and the tangerines and shiny Macintosh Red apples discarded in favour of Selection Boxes and chocolate treats, and the wrappings put in the bin, the serious work of reading or playing began. After breakfast, and I don’t remember what we had but it certainly wasn’t anything resembling smoked salmon, we had to get dressed for Christmas lunch. This was a grand affair when Dad came to pick us up and we opened more presents before heading off to the Cafe Royal where Grandma, Barbara, his current wife, and Lesley and Joanne (our half-sisters) all gathered sharing lists of what we’d got.
The Cafe Royal was probably the most grand restaurant in Edinburgh in those days and we’d always have a table in the Crown Room. There would be luxury crackers to pull and beautiful gifts for the women. That’s when the serious eating of smoked salmon began although I do remember Dad occasionally have scrambled egg on toast if he’d been overdoing the dining out. Dad was always adamant that both families and both wives got on and Mum and Barbara went along with it and did indeed seem to get on although, looking back, it can’t have been easy for mum to be brought face to face with the newer model.
When I became a mum of two little boys some traditions remained the same. The pillow case became a proper Santa Sack but the orange and apple remained and the notebook always came out to make a list ready for thank-you letters. Mum came to us for Christmas and helped make lunch, a more informal affair round the dining table with no white-aproned waiters in sight. Breakfast might be smoked salmon and a wee Croft Original sherry, or maybe a bacon roll.
Then ordination changed all of that. The boys were growing up but still around but Mum died in 2006 and I was left to make the food myself. Friends who know me will also know that cooking is not one of my gifts. Heating things in a microwave is my gift but cooking things and having them all ready at the same time is definitely not one of my gifts and charisms. And I was exhausted. I was so busy in the week leading up to Christmas that I sometimes didn’t get to the shops until the last turkey was gone and there was not a potato to be found. One son was a fussy eater and the other had cordon bleu tastes so there was never an agreement on what we should eat. One year I remember a fridge full of nibbles and savouries and only a lobster platter from Marks and Spencer as a main course.
For a few years it fell to Son #1 to make the food but as he and Son #2 had often been up late drinking the night before they never felt like cooking or eating until about 7pm. By that time I’d done about 14 services over the past few days and made so many bacon rolls to see me through I never felt like eating and was ready to go to bed by 6.30pm.
Then Son #1 decided he’d rather have Christmas with his new partner, and who can blame him? And we were left, the two of us, who really didn’t like the same food as each other. He didn’t want to get up early to open presents before I went off to do the Christmas day services but I was desperate to see what Santa had brought. No sherry for breakfast when you’ve got the Holy Mysteries to see to and bed was only a few short hours before. Midnight Mass can really up the adrenaline levels and it takes hours for me to come back to earth after the high. No sleep for me before about 4am. And so I come back from the Christmas Day eucharist and Son #2 is still in bed and reluctant to leave his cosy pit and share the love of the baby Jesus.
A few years ago we made a splendid decision to have a Chinese carry-out for our Christmas meal. I can’t believe we hadn’t thought of it before. It was the perfect solution for we both loved Chinese food and I didn’t have to cook it. And it worked beautifully. Until last year… the Chinese restaurant decided to close for Christmas Day. We phoned every Chinese carry-out in town and not one of them was open. That year we had a plateful of chipolatas and some sausage rolls. Oh how we laughed.
This year I actually planned ahead and no Chinese restaurant could be found. I asked Son #2 what he’d like instead and he said the only meal he could remember that I’d ever cooked which was edible was a slow-cooker stew so that’s what we had. I put it on after the Midnight Mass and it was really tasty at 5pm. (The veg were pre-packed and the gravy came from a bottle.) This was also the Year of the Lindt overload as I’d casually mentioned my love of Lindt chocolate and I received rather a surfeit. 8 boxes in fact, not to mention the Thorntons boxes of chocs. That did nicely for breakfast and lunch.
What I failed to do this year was get that old notebook out to write down the presents for the thank-you letters. So thank you, dear friends, for all those lovely presents. I love them all, even if I can’t quite remember who gave what.
Ordination really messes with your Christmas folks. Unless you have a lovely spouse who happens to enjoy taking care of that kind of thing, it can be a messy business and a stipend doesn’t quite stretch to dining out in the Cafe Royal, although I hear its not quite the same these days. So spare a thought for the poor children of clergy who don’t get to open presents at a reasonable hour and have to eat stew on Christmas day after mum has snored her way through the afternoon movie and is ready to go back to bed at 7pm.