My late mum, bringer-upper of five children had many a saying. If the sun was shining in a clear cold Edinburgh blue sky she would opine “it won’t last”. If you came sashaying in from a night oot, full of goodwill and wine, she would cast you a critical glance accompanied by “it’ll be a different story on the morning”. It always was. So, too, with Christmas which in her book was for children and children alone.
Brought up in an orphanage on the death of her father, a Welsh miner, her mother having died in childbirth, her story would fit into any Dickensian novel. Christmas therefore, as with all the year, was for the children.
Once you had reached 16 or 17 you were on your own, as she had been. Ah, but for us as children, there was magic and mystery. We then lived in a Sighthill prefab. We had a real tree, none of those fancy tree holders for us, just a decorated bucket and the tree stuck in earth and held up with hidden bricks. How dry it must have become, so I wonder with those lit candles – yes, real candles – we did not have the house ablaze. We even had paper chains dangling low to boot, and walls and ceilings of, it seems, papier-mâché.
Stockings were pinned to the end of the bed, dad’s woolly socks, and we would find a mandarin, some crayons and a sweetie or two in the morning.
That was it apart from the “big” present under the tree accompanied by the mandatory selection box and annual.
My Christmas childhood ended too soon, when I was about seven and desperately clinging on to the fairy tale. My brother, Tony, almost two years my junior, was the culprit. As usual we had searched high and low to see if presents were hidden in the wardrobes and cupboards. It was part of the reaffirmation that Santa was real. Ah, but Tony took me aside and whispered that he knew where the presents were and reluctantly I followed him into his bedroom where, with some panache I must say, he lifted the cover from a cardboard box commandeered as a bedside table and – voilà – there was the doll I had pleaded for, in her yellow dress, sandals and straw hat. My heart was broken, though I soldiered on and should have been awarded an Oscar on Christmas Day for my performance.
Now I am a granny and the fun for me is wrapping the parcels to send to the grandchildren in London who have twice the excitement opening the big boxes to find presents wrapped inside to wait for Christmas Day.
Then there is my Scottish granddaughter, four going on 14, all that glitters is all she wants for Christmas and, believe you me, I have gone big time on glittery things.
Ach, mum was right, as always, Christmas is for children. As for me? Each year I get landed with something – usually which will need dusting, if I ever did such a thing.
One year, for a month in advance, I placed the words “fountain pen” into as many circumstances as I could. You know “I do like the way a fountain pen encourages better handwriting” or “I remember being given my first Parker pen” and so on.
I still got a “thing to dust”.
I expect another “thing to dust” this year, and every year son number one says he didn’t know what to buy me. I haven’t mentioned fountain pens this year at all so maybe I’ll strike lucky!
Have a happy Christmas.
Christine Grahame is SNP MSP for Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale.