5 December 2013
Are you still packing a Stocking on Christmas Eve? Truly, it was the very best moment of Christmas when one was a child. Everything was still to come, not a precious minute of the day had yet passed, all was Now! The first tentative exploring poke with the toe established that yes, it was really there. Heavy and nobbly, its weighty bulk reaching just about from side to side of the bottom of the bed.
“Are you awake?”
Of course she was, neither of us had slept more than two or three hours. Quiet as mice we tiptoed to the light, found dressing-gowns, and hopped back into the bed hauling our Stockings up beside us. There was a ritual – neither would start unpacking until the other was ready, and both would reach the orange and walnut in the toe at precisely the same moment. We tried to be very quiet but the finding of a harmonica or kazoo was irresistible. Tousled and cross, an elder sister would appear and tell us to shut up.
“But it’s Christmas!” we would wail, and just sometimes she would come with her own Stocking and join us in the bed.
As presents for the grown-ups, we made cards, calendars, book marks and blotters which took many days. It’s ages since I made a Blotter. Several large pages of murky pink, purple and green blotting papers were bought; never white for some reason: perhaps it was kept for writing-paper pads? Last year’s Christmas cards were tumbled out and the best pictures chosen and trimmed to decorate the home-made presents.
Glue was always a problem. If we were lucky we had a proper bottle of Gum, with a brush sticking out of the lid. We’re talking early Fifties when there was no Uhu or even glitter, but there was Lepage’s with a curious rubber nozzle.
One had to cut the blotting papers to a suitable size using at least two layers of paper of different colours, then fix the chosen card, and tie the papers together at the top with ribbon in a neat bow – the most difficult bit. Parents, Aunts Godparents and Friends who had an Interest in One (eg. the piano mistress) expressed wild enthusiasm for these blotters – very gratifying to a seven year-old.
Bookmarks were quickest; just a cut-out of an old Christmas or Birthday card fixed onto some stiff paper, cut to size with a message written on the back. We made our own Christmas cards from the same stiff paper. Our designs inevitably included several ponies, fully harnessed, admiring the crib.
Daddy’s Stocking relied heavily on things bought by Mummy although I remember one year my sister made a hand knitted nose-warmer, held on like spectacles, with crocheted loops over the ears: both exotic and ingenious. Mummy’s Stocking was a tour de force and we saved up our pocket money for at least two weeks, then “borrowed” unashamedly to make up the shortfall. The elder sisters were soft targets for loans.
There had to be soap, Palma violet scented sachets, hair nets and a new bed-bonnet; and hairpins that were necessary but didn’t exactly fill the stocking. She didn’t eat chocolate and we were too young to buy gin.
She liked handkerchiefs (no paper ones in those days), and we imagined she liked “Parma violet pastilles”, so usually tucked a packet in. Indian ink, mapping pens, pencils and a good rubber (eraser) always went down well; the Caran D’Ache pastels she sometimes used were way beyond our budget. On one famous occasion we bought a box of loose peach face-powder with a vast peach powder puff! Quite the loveliest aid to beauty we’d ever seen.
There was, of course, the blotter, bookmark and calendar, all of which she exclaimed over, much to our satisfaction.
Church took hours. My parents never went; escorting us little ones was the duty of the eldest sister who we knew was very religious, and amazingly, really enjoyed the endless music and drama of it all. The church was extremely high Anglican. One year I was taken outside (hurray) for throwing up due to the gales of incense.
How we skipped home, duty done, to see the Christmas tree for the first time with the presents arranged around it! It had real candles, to be lit as soon as soon as darkness fell. Relations had arrived in our absence, and presents (quite a different experience from opening Stockings) were opened with pre-lunch sherry/squash.
How do parents get exactly the right presents? I remember a vast paintbox for my little sister and me, with at least 40 paints in it and two brushes; and a small wooden bed for my ted with his name painted on it: Daddy made the bed, Mummy did the artwork. And oh joy, a pair of roller-skates!
The giving of gifts is magic, and the receiving of them, specially the home-made ones like Blotters, enough to reduce one to tears.