Virginia Barton

23 December 2015: Family rituals


23 December 2015


It was never called “Herod the Monster” or “Follow That Star”; it was only ever “The Christmas Show”. Children thrive on rituals and routine, and ours were no exception.




As soon as the holidays began, preparations for the the Christmas Eve entertainment got under-way. BH’s T square, best quality A4 paper, and HB pencils were “borrowed” for the Programmes. My paintbox, brushes, and India ink followed suit. (This is before the time of easy-option felt tips.) At least half a dozen Programmes had to be written and decorated, and somebody had to decide on the order of carols, readings, poems, and solos. Naturally the eldest did this, but not without fierce argument, slammed doors, and tears.

(From my hideaway in the kitchen next door I could hear:

“You’re SO mean — you know I wanted to sing/play/read that! You promised last year you know you did!”

“I’ll never speak to you again if you don’t let me be Gabriel this time, why do I always have to be the donkey?”

And so on.)

Top Dog was no pushover; eventually restoring peace quite cunningly by compensating one with a recorder solo just before the Interval; another malcontent with the best poem.


Baby JesusThe Show always began with Ding Dong Merrily On High to get everyone in the right spirit. This was followed by a shortened version of Gabriel’s visit to Mary and her response. Joseph led the reluctant donkey to the kitchen stool disguised with a bath towel. From beneath its folds, Mary drew a small bundle swaddled so completely in tea towels, no-one could know it was actually Topsy.

There had been much controversy over Topsy.

“You can’t use her for Baby Jesus, she’s black, AND a girl.” Eldest daughter, who eventually read theology at Oxford .

“But she’s very pretty, and she’ll wet herself if you tip her up.” Middle daughter, artist.

“She’s my Topsy and I WANT her to be Jesus.” Youngest, wailing by now.

“You lot don’t know anything. Jesus was not white for a start and he was always kind to girls. So shut up all of you; we’re having Topsy.” This from the eldest, future banker.


Where were we?

PoodleTears in the audience as the recorder accompanied Silent Night and We Will Rock You. Then the arty child read some verses from St Matthew about the Magi, and the theologian recited A Cold Coming We Had Of It.

After this things became rather less solemn. On one never-to-be-forgotten occasion, an “aunt” persuaded us that Binka, her giant poodle, was as good as gold and would sit quietly throughout the Show. Which he did – until the youngest climbed onto the kitchen stool to lead a rousing version of Past Three O’clock. The dog went bananas; careering onto the stage, barking and jumping up to his height of at least five feet; crashing about like a mad creature. Pandemonium, shrieks and consternation!

I was furious, BH laughed, Grandmother was horrified, and Binka’s owner, far from being apologetic, explained that he just wanted to join in the fun.

Order was restored with Oh Come All Ye Faithful, a round of applause and drinks and mince pies all round.


Those were the days!

Happy Christmas!



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