A Few Thoughts As Christmas Nears.

a writing by Denis Barter

This was originally begun in the evening following the Christmas Day (2014) meal, and thought perhaps, it would be timely to post before the upcoming Christmas Day. Every year it seems, we see more of the old traditions disappear, supplanted by new ones, as another generation makes its wants known and brings small but important changes to what many of us cherish. Thought perhaps, with fewer “Seniors” around, I would let the reader know my feelings, not only as they were, but what Christmas meant to me as a youngster! Today? I’m a dyed in the wool senior, who hankers more for the traditional that I knew and experienced, than the modernistic approach! Ciao Denis aka Rhymer.

Setting the Scene.

It is Christmas Day; Carols and Christmas music plays endlessly on the radio, and normal programming has been changed or pre-empted. We have eaten our midday feast, lovingly prepared by my wife. It is time I feel, to remove myself to the deep easy recliner, which beckons me with its enticing charms. The glass or two of wine which we had partaken, reinforces my desire to relax, and perhaps to sleep off the effects of over eating. Allowing my mind to wander through the memories of Christmases past. Times which are romantically remembered perhaps, but still remain very important to me, even to this day! It has been another Christmas, when we follow our present day routine of dialing the long list of numbers which ensure connection with the last few members of my family in England.

This established routine has been followed for at least fifteen years now - though it could be more - and is a much anticipated Christmas Present to ourselves. It has become a “tradition” that brings us much pleasure, and one we shall follow as long as we can!

Admittedly, as one ages, one’s memory has a tendency to become selective, and even to deteriorate somewhat. However, I like to think my memory is as clear as crystal when it comes to those days when, as a child, Christmas meant so much more to me than it does today! It has been further reinforced in recent years, by becoming Christmas with a difference, for today I am the oldest member of our family still living. Many of my cousins, my parents, and those of my dear wife, are gone to wherever? Despite all the hardships they endured they were mostly a long lived generation, which bodes well for our future, should we possess the genes so obviously present in our two families. Until he passed away shortly before Christmas a few years ago, my father was the oldest survivor. He was within five years of reaching his century. However, that was not to be.

Important memories of my eighty plus years, are those that I well remember, being the Christmas celebrations that took place, when I was a boy. One tends to put them into the deep recesses of our mind, only to bring them out, on regular occasions, to bore our children. It is easy to slip into maudlin sentimentality, under the influence of a large meal, and a glass of wine. A time when incidents of past years are endlessly recalled to be related to all who would listen! We forget how many times and how many Christmas Days, we have repeatedly told, and retold, these tales of our youth? Like watching those old movies, yearly seen on our screens, which television programmers would have us believe, are essential for us to get into the mood of Christmas ! No longer does Christmas Day appear complete without a choice of several to watch again.

One can readily forget that those days were extremely fragile. That under the veneer of paper decorations, and the obvious evidence of carols, church services, choristers and carol concerts, there was underlying poverty present! Bold, brave fronts were shown to the passing world. Parents scrimped and scraped for a whole year, that they might enjoy a few days at most: days of feasting and enjoyment and entertaining one’s friends and family! Sacrifices had been made throughout the year by most adult members of the family, that they might be generous and giving on Christmas morn. Weeks of hard work and preparation went into the baking of cakes, puddings, mince pies, fudge, and... ? Well the list goes on! I’m convinced that by the time Christmas Day dawned, most of the adult population was suffering from burn out! All this effort so that families and especially children, might have the pleasure of knowing what Christmas was all about! Let us not forget, that many families were large! Not until we became teenagers, did we begin to understand how much parents had sacrificed that we might enjoy this “Special Day”! Certainly we were blessed and extremely lucky, to be shown such love and devotion. Something which never once occurred to us when we young, thinking it was a normal, inherited right. We accepted all efforts and gifts as though they came from benevolent philanthropists, which in reality, bore no relation to the truth!

Today, children are bombarded, from Hallowe’en onwards, by incessant advertising on the television and radio. Newspapers are filled with colourful pictures of what every child should expect to find under their Christmas Tree! No expense is thought too great. No matter how extravagant the gift suggested! “Credit” or “Terms” is offered to all! No heed is given to the economic situation some parents find themselves in. We live in a ‘buy now - pay later’ world of fast paced advertising and ‘need have’ environment! The pleasure and love we, as children, were so blessed to receive, has been replaced by greed, and an avaricious approach which leaves me wondering as to where it will all end? Is there no place left for old fashioned values? Is there no future for those who give and receive, from the heart, rather than from
the wallet? Where has the Christmas Spirit gone? Are we so obsessed by possessions that we have lost sight of the basic tenets of Christmas?

Who under fifty years of age, has been blessed to hear the travelling carol singers? Walking door to door they not only entertained but reminded us of the true meaning which Christmas imparts. That Christmas is a celebration of an event which took place over two thousand years ago! As a child and a member of the church choir, almost nightly I, along with other choir members, walked miles in the weeks before Christmas Day to bring joy to outlying farms and families. Proud to have the opportunity to ‘give’ of what we had an over abundance! This, because we were taught to show an innate Love of our fellow man. With our singing we hoped to bring a few moments of pleasure, and relief into normally hard lives! The isolated farmers and farm workers had no choice of TV Shows which nowadays, appear to flood our airwaves from every part of the globe. The Christmas morning Church service and Mass on the radio - if attending the Church service was out of the question - was the high point of celebrations for many. For others, the family and friends “get together “ - generally in the late afternoon and evening was the high point of Christmas, and the time when all indulged in feasting and party games! Which always ranked high on the list of ‘fun things’ to do! Cards, board games and the excitement generated by parlour games, has almost been lost. Charades, Postman’s Knock, Spin the Bottle, I(eye?) Spy, along with Ludo, Snakes and Ladders, Tiddly Winks are but a few that spring to mind! Today, we are expected to buy the latest in computer games or, at the very least, provide children with the latest gadgetry from the nearest electronic store! Invariably my greatest pleasure was upon being presented with the latest Annual. A Boy’s Own, Rupert or some such other yearly production, which gave me many hours of joy! A child that now receives a book at Christmas, and gets pleasure from such a gift, is a rare find indeed!

But, least you think all is laid waste, let us not forget that although we are quick to criticise the loss of older values, that there are some aspects of Christmas which can only be described as improved. Seldom does one hear of, or see the abject poverty which was commonplace in the Thirties and Forties. Few children of the Western world today, know of the deprivation and squalor which was part of everyday living then. To go hungry and cold, insufficiently clothed, is now an exception, in spite of so-called surveys which would have us believe otherwise! Living standards, even for the poorest among us, are much higher. Not necessarily acceptable when compared with the ‘average’, they still remain much higher than what we once knew! We do not advocate a return to those days of ‘have not’. All I ask, is that we do not forget what Christmas truly means? That the true spirit is not allowed to become completely lost under the pretext of progress. There is nothing wrong with having to do without, that we might take greater enjoyment from what we celebrate at Christmas. We would do well to remember those ‘good old days’, and not dismiss them as no more than boring tales, recalled from a bygone age, by Grandparents.

There are many lessons to be learnt from such times and when it comes to Christmas? By all means let us enjoy but let it be tempered with moderation. Nothing more than a Grandfather’s Moment for Christmas Memories.

Rhymer. December 14th, 2015.

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