diamond geezer

 Saturday, December 24, 2022

By Christmas Eve most of us have manoeuvred ourselves into the location where we intend to spend Christmas. It might be our own home, the parental home, the home of other friends or relatives, or a hotel room somewhere on a much-deserved festive break. For some it's always the same place, for others a moveable feast, with the acquisition of in-laws often the trigger for finding yourself somewhere new.

So I thought I'd count up all the different locations I've slept on Christmas night - all the places Santa needed to know where to find me - to see how many it's been. Turns out it's eight, which may or may not be more than average.

1) A house in Hertfordshire (1965-1973)  [9 Christmases]

All my formative Christmas night experiences were here in a small Victorian two-up two-down - the bed I hung a stocking from, the chimney I firmly believed Father Christmas came down and the tree the presents magically appeared under. We had a proper chimney too, so it wasn't a complete stretch of the imagination that a man in a red suit might make his way down from the roof overnight. My Christmas stocking, which may in fact have been a fabric bag, was particularly important because it was always stuffed with little treasures like chocolates, games and quite likely one of those tiny Wade Whimsies animal figurines. My brother would have been in the bed opposite so we'd compare our hauls, which had of course been balanced by unseen parental hands, before dashing downstairs to rip thin wrapping paper off our respective boxes of delights. And then we moved house and I never spent another Christmas night here again.

2) Another house in Hertfordshire (1974-1990)  [17 Christmases]

The Christmases I best remember were here in a nearby Metroland semi-detached. I was past the "thinking Santa came down the chimney" stage by now, or imminently about to be, but that didn't stop me wanting a present to appear at the foot of the bed. Later my parents switched the tradition so that we were allowed to open one 'big present' before going to bed, which conveniently avoided the need for them to sneak into my room when I might still have been awake. Most memorable of these was the opening of the transistor radios at Christmas 1977, an event my brother still prefers to forget. We had a special corner of the front room where the tree always went, with a mountain of parcels stacked behind, and then pulled out the big table to spread for Christmas lunch, perhaps with an elderly relative as guest of honour. It was at some point during this period that I first allowed sprouts onto my plate. And Christmas night during this period always involved attending Midnight Mass, of which we choristers were an integral part, until my parents upped sticks and moved to Norfolk and I never attended another overnight service again.

3) A house in Norfolk (1991-94)  [4 Christmases]

Christmas was very different in a newly-bought village bungalow. Nobody in the house was under 20 so there was no need to pretend Santa visited down the non-existent chimney, plus we had a diminishing pile of presents to open. Also there was no rush to get up in the morning so the day often started suitably late, at least unless you were the one charged with getting the turkey in the oven. All the traditional baubles still hung from the tree, gently unwrapped from fascinating scraps of old newspaper. Before lunch the best cutlery came out of the bottom drawer, plus the special tablecloth, and everything was timed to perfection to make sure we were done in time for either Top of the Pops or The Queen. But things started changing in 1992 when my brother spent Christmas night with his future in-laws, then in 1993 we all had lunch over there and in 1994 the arrival of a baby shifted the centre of Christmas gravity forever and I never spent another Christmas night here again.

4) Another house in Norfolk (1995)  [1 Christmas]

Here's where I jumped ship and spent my first Christmas night at my brother's house, not with my parents. It was important to share the occasion with my one year-old nephew, even if he had a streaming cold and was still too young to work out what on earth was going on. During the evening we followed the instructions to build his Little Tikes Party Cafe because he was never going to manage it himself, then missed the smile on his face in the morning when he walked into the 'wrong' room and spotted it. This was the first time in years that opening our presents had taken as long as 40 minutes, my diary records, and then yet more gifts had to be opened when both sets of grandparents drove over. This might have been the location for many a Yuletide memory had not the urgent need for an extra bedroom caused my brother and his pregnant wife to find a larger house, and so I never spent another Christmas night here again.

5) Another house in Norfolk (1996-2000)  [4 Christmases]

By now Christmas had become an event I parachuted into rather than being an integral part of. The focus was firmly the generation beneath me, who soon numbered three, and they were just as excitable about the countdown to the big day as I'd been thirty years previously. The camcorder became a key Christmas tradition, charged up to record expressions of delight or indifference as the present-opening marathon continued. We had a year when a power cut hit at 5am and the turkey had to be mercy-dashed to an in-law's oven, and a year when everyone had accidentally bought Wallace and Gromit mugs for each other, and best not mention the year dominated by Barney the purple dinosaur. And then I met someone...

6) A house in Essex (1998)  [1 Christmas]

The Other Half had big plans for spending Christmas abroad, but when those came to nothing my brother's house became a grudging default option. On Christmas night bedtime was delayed while I got to listen to all sorts of maudlin tales of miserable Christmases past which had clearly been nothing like mine. In the morning deliberate reticence led to a very long lie-in, followed by the opening of four miserable gifts (to me) and one unappreciated expensive gift (from me). An unnecessary bath delayed things longer, necessitating a call to my brother to apologise that we were going to be very late, so they started eating without us and we arrived just before the pudding. It's quite the most awkward and fractious Christmas I ever endured, not that we tried to let on in front of the children, and my only comfort is that we broke up the following November so I never had to spend another Christmas night with the devil again.

7) Another house in Norfolk (2001-2019)  [19 Christmases]

My brother then moved again, setting up the default location for two decades of Christmas night tradition. I now get to catch the train up to Norfolk a day or two before, perhaps help with last-minute shopping at Sainsburys and attempt to help with the creation of the homemade sausage rolls. I graze on whichever tubs of sweets have been opened before the big day and try to get out of playing Monopoly if humanly possible. I remind everyone when the Snowman's on, plus Carols at Kings, and assist with the assembly of any major presents. That Playmobil castle took absolutely ages. Before midnight I bed down on the floor of the office, or any other better surface that may have become available that year, and am woken at a time that's varied from stupid o'clock to semi-reasonable as the children have got older. There's crackling to be snaffled and more gifts to open as two waves of grandparents arrive, and eventually comes the big meal at the long table with its sadly decreasing number of seats. It's totally where I spend my Christmas night now, or was until the year it didn't happen.

8) My flat in London (2020-2021)  [2 Christmases]

I never thought I'd get to spend Christmas in my own home, the day's too much of a family occasion for that, but in 2020 a global pandemic conspired to keep us all apart. It did it again in 2021, advisedly, last minute, gifting me two Christmases on my tod. It was strange going into Christmas night alone, and strange not seeing anyone opening anything, and particularly strange that cooking Christmas dinner became entirely my responsibility. I managed an overflowing plate with turkey and sprouts, if not the full complement of trimmings, plus microwaved pudding and custard for afters. One luxury of spending Christmas by yourself is that the TV remote is under your sole control meaning you can watch anything and everything you like, so I did, rather than getting home several days later and catching up on what I'd videoed. It was interesting as a one-off, and OK as a two-off, but I suspect I'll never spend another Christmas night here again.

This year I'm spending Christmas night in Norfolk again, but just for a change in house number 3 rather than house number 7. I've decided to kick off the day with my Dad not my brother, indeed I'm there already, although we're driving over to his for lunch and hopefully arriving before the crackling runs out. So it's still just the eight locations for Christmas night for me, and no sign that anyone's yet planning on branching out and buying a ninth. Wherever you're staying, and however many it's been, may you wake to a joyful and memorable Christmas.

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