A Life in a Year – 24th December, Christmas Eve


As for most people Christmas was best when I was young and still believed in Santa Claus.  In those days we used to alternate between a Christmas at home one year and then at the grandparents the year after.  I can remember two of these quite clearly.

My mum’s parents lived in London and they lived in a flat in Catford and when we stayed there I got to sleep in a small box room at the front of the house overlooking the street outside.  One year, I was four years old, I had gone to bed on Christmas Eve and sometime during the night I woke up and because of the streetlights outside there was enough illumination for me to see at the foot of the bed that there was a sack overflowing with presents.  Sticking out of the top of the sack was a rifle (not a real one of course) so I knew that I had got the cowboy outfit that was top of my Christmas present list!  It was still some time until morning but I am sure that I was able to sleep better after that secure in the confidence that Santa had been.

I used to like Christmas in London, the flat was a curious arrangement that was simply the top floor of a family house with only one front door but it was warm and homely and welcoming.  For most of the year everything took place in the small back room but at Christmas we were allowed to go into the best front room for a couple of days.  In the morning we would open the main presents and then at tea time there were gifts on the tree to be taken down and given out.  Grandad was in charge of this operation until one year when instead of cutting a piece of string holding the present on the tree he cut the tree lights instead and nearly electrocuted himself in the process.  After that he lost the job and my Nan took over the responsibility from thereon. 

There was always a stocking hanging on the fireplace that had the same things in it every year.  This was a real stocking mind, not one of the modern pre-packed things that we get today.  Grandad was a bus conductor before they went one man operated and every year he used to collect shiny new penny coins and each of us would get a cash bag full of the gleaming treasure.  There was an apple and an orange and a few sweets, a dot-to-dot book and perhaps a matchbox car or two.

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