I keep Christmas nowadays mainly for my mother’s sake. She’s 93 and rarely sees any of the family except me. This year my brother called in for about two hours a week or so ago, first time she’s seen him for over 15 months.Â He was in London for a meeting (he lives in Yorkshire). Her brother and niece called in for a few hours last week too, they live in Wembley. I’m the only relative living near her, and now visit her most days.
We both remember the old Christmasses we used to celebrate at my grandparents’ house, when they lived in Wood Green, and bungalow, when they moved to Welwyn Garden City. All their children, their partners and the grandchildren (except for my mother’s eldest brother and his family) used to meet up at their place every year. There were usually about 12 of us.Â They had 11 grandchildren, but 6 all belonged to her eldest son, so they had a crowd at ChristmasÂ all to themselves, and they lived way down in Kent.
My grandparents would insist we all watch The Queen’s speech on TV (this was once we got TV in the late 1950s/early 1960s), then the TV would be turned off or put in another room altogether. We weren’t allowed to watch it at all for the whole Christmas/Boxing Day period. Nor were we allowed to go to bed, well not till the early hours anyway.
We’d have Christmas dinner in the afternoon, an enormous Christmas tea with cakes, jellies, etc., a Christmas supper around midnight with cold turkey, ham and salad, and we’d start all over again on Boxing Day.
All thru the two days we sang songs together, played all sorts of games, my grandmother and mother would do ‘black magic’ – it was all great fun.
Then suddenly it all ended. On the day after Boxing Day 1970 my grandmother, then 83 and very active – she’d prepared the Christmas meals for us all – reached up in her kitchenÂ to a high shelf in order to reach a saucepan, slipped and fell. She broke her hip, and although it was repaired in hospital she never reallyÂ recovered. She deteriorated rapidly andÂ died three months later in the early hours of my 26th birthday. My grandfather followed her about a month later, after saying to my mother the night before: ‘I think I’ll go and find Edie’, which was my grandmother’s first name – Edith. He didn’t commit suicide, just died in the night.
Since then the family have never met up again at Christmas. Sometimes my brother would come down for Christmas I believe, orÂ my partner George and I would invite some of our friends round ChristmasÂ Day. It was never the same as the old Christmas times at my grandparents. The games we tried to teach our friends often fell flat – they didn’t understand them, or there weren’t enough of us to make them work properly.
In later years my mother was sometimes alone at Christmas. This was thru no fault ofÂ my own. The powers-that-be decided to take all public transport off at Christmas time. My mother lived 25 miles away, and there was no way of getting there and back on Christmas Day or Boxing Day. She hated staying away from home, and didn’t have room to put me up. Sometimes, if I booked early enough, I could getÂ the guest room at her sheltered accommodation. Even before she moved so far away, and lived in Kilburn, it was difficult to get there from Battersea on Christmas Day.
My partner hated Christmas with a vengeance, and with very good reason. His mother died at this time, when he was only 8, and he had to stay with an aunt, uncle and cousins. He wasn’t told his mother had died, and couldn’t understand what was happening. He had to share a bed with a girl cousin, and she sexually assaulted him as his mother lay dead in the morgue.
These terrible Christmas memories, and the fact that he wasÂ Scottish and, like Greek-Cypriots, my father’s nationality, they celebrate New Year (or Hogmanay) rather than Christmas, led to him frequently staying on his own at home and sleeping most of the day when I visitedÂ my mother on Christmas Day. At other times he’d stay with friends. In later years, we compromised – we started going abroad for Christmas one year to get away from all the phony hype and merriment, and every other Christmas I’d spend with my mother. But I always made sure I spent some time with her over the Christmas period.
GeorgeÂ annoyed my mother very much by not getting into the Christmas spirit. Weeks before she would asked us: ‘What are you doing for Christmas?’ and one year he plucked up the courage to say: ‘Ignoring it!’ He frequently did, though I always made the effort for my mother’s sake. I will say he tried many years to join in the festivities, but we never recaptured the Christmasses of old.
My partner died overÂ 16 years ago. Nowadays many of my friends are also single and alone at Christmas. Many of them also ignore it. It is a time for families, and gay people don’t really fit in. And since they took the public transport off, it is almost impossible to visit friends or relatives anyway. Even those with cars are told if they drive they must, naturally, not have many drinks over Christmas.
This year my mother and I are going to be picked upÂ after 10 a.m. and taken toÂ a Rotary Club Christmas for pensioners in a big marquee in Battersea Park. I’m told it is very good by people who have been other years. Perhaps it will become a regular Christmas eventÂ for us, if we are fortunate enough to enjoy more Christmasses together. I thought it would not only save me buying a turkey and cooking it for just the two of us,Â then eating it for weeks afterwards, but would be fun to be with a lot of other people at a big party on Christmas Day.
Boxing Day I’m taking my mother to a local cafe, which do an excellent Christmas lunch. Then we have my partner’s relatives, and three friends visiting around New Year.
I’m not going to say: ‘Christmas? Bah, humbug!’ but for non-Christians like myself without children, it means very little. It is always rather an anti-climax after all the hype which starts in September or even earlier. The worst part is before the actual day – the writing and posting of Christmas cards, andÂ the presents. I find it all a hassle, especially as you don’t know what to get a lot of people, and have little idea what you want yourself. But I always manage it in the end, and with Christmas cards it is at least a way of keeping in contact once a year. If you don’t get a card from someone, you assume they’ve died.
A group of us ‘Woodies’ (fans of Roots Music who subscribe to a magazine edited by my friend Keith Woods) meet up for some drinks and a meal between Christmas and New Year to relieve the monotony of 8 Sundays in a row. Once Christmas was all over in two days, then everybody was back to work till Easter. Now they’ve given us the New Year holiday, most offices shut down for over a week, and TV is full of Christmas fare for the whole of this period. It does get rather tiresome. There’s only so many times you can watch ‘A Christmas Carol’ and ‘The Wizard of Oz’ (I’ve already watched two versions of Dickens’ tale and it’s still only 2 a.m. on Christmas morning as I write this!)
But we can rely on the soap EastEnders to really dampen everyone’s spirits with a tale of misery and woe on Christmas Day itself. Apart from Dirty Den serving divorce papers on his wife Angie one Christmas, another year Arthur Fowler was in prison (wearing a festive paper hat and a miserable face), last year his wife Pauline was found dead under the Christmas tree in the square, having been hit on the head with a frying pan. At least they are injecting some sort of reality into Christmas. Terribile things continue to happen – for instance the tsunami on Boxing Day a few years ago, and what happened to my partner George when he was 8.
I only wish everyone was happy and well fed thruout Christmas and indeed all year round, but it is not so. If I have a Christmas message it would be to spread the giving, the love and joy around to everyone all year round, not just one day a year.
But at least it relieves the boredom of mid-Winter, and indeed used to be celebrated as the pagan mid-Winter Festival till the early Christian church decided it would be a convenient day to celebrate the birth of its founder. They also adopted other pagan traditions such as the virgin birth.Â But if Christ’s message of peace were taken to heart by Christians and others all year round, the world would be a better place.
As it is, Christmas is now largely a commercial festival, and as such is perhaps best ignored, at least for those without children or parents who would miss it if it wasn’t celebrated.