From a personal perspective, the magic of Christmas wore off several years ago. As a moderately affluent adult with a penchant for retail therapy – I like to think I am helping the country spend its way out of its economic slump – Christmas is a time when I have to restrain myself and allow other people to buy me presents which I would otherwise have bought for myself several weeks earlier. And it’s also that horrible period where normal, civilised people turn into frenzied idiots, fighting over car parking spaces and wielding supermarket trolleys like weapons in the fight to procure the last pack of bite-size party snacks in Waitrose.
Don’t get me wrong, I do love the festive season – turkey, mince pies, the Christmas edition of Radio Times, all that stuff – it’s just that it’s not the big deal it was when I was a kid.
Until this year, that is.
Actually, that’s not quite true. Over the past four years Christmas has gradually become increasingly meaningful. In 2007 we were still celebrating Isaac’s birth earlier in December. By 2008 he was adept enough to participate in the festivities in some small ways – ripping wrapping paper off, that sort of thing. The following Christmas Heather was 37 weeks pregnant with Toby and Zac understood enough to know that Christmas followed his birthday, meant a second round of presents, and was therefore something to be anticipated with great excitement. And by last year he had fully grasped the concept of Santa Claus and – geek boy that he is – was following the progress of the big man’s sleigh around the globe courtesy of the NORAD Santa Tracker. (Seriously, it’s brilliant.)
This year, of course, he was another big step further along in his comprehension. For the first time we gave him an Advent calendar and every morning he would bound down the stairs, open up the window pertaining to that particular day, scoff the chocolate inside it, and then replace the calendar without being tempted by any more windows. In that respect, he already shows a lot more self-restraint than either of his parents have ever possessed.
He was also especially concerned with ensuring Santa’s smooth entrance and egress. He insisted I remove the fire-guard so that the red-suited one wouldn’t have any problems emerging from our fireplace. And then he peered into our fire – we have a gas fire and no actual chimney – and immediately asked how Santa would get in because our fireplace was blocked. There are times our elder son is too smart for his own good, and I was relieved to be able to improvise a suitably plausible explanation to placate him. Next year, I suspect he will ask me whether Santa’s sleigh is environmentally friendly given the number of air miles he does, if he is in danger of contracting diabetes from all the mince pies he eats, and whether he is fit to be in charge of a high-speed vehicle after all those glasses of sherry/port/other intoxicant.
With Toby approaching his second birthday, he too became more actively involved in the Christmas experience. Both boys were hugely excited when I extracted the tree from the loft, and each of them contributed hugely to its decoration. Zac drew and wrote his own Christmas cards. Toby had his own little Christmas tree for the first time. Both of them lapped up the Christmas specials of their favourite TV programmes. (Thank God for CBeebies!)
All in all, for the first time it really felt like a proper family Christmas, the sort of thing all parents envisage from the moment their first child is born.
It felt particularly so on Christmas Day. Against all expectation, Zac lasted until 5.40am before dragging Heather and I out of bed. Which, obviously, meant that his stocking lasted until approximately 5.42am. Having been told that he had to wait until after breakfast before opening his big presents, he then proceeded to busily rearrange all the boxes into neat piles sorted by person. I suppose obsessive compulsive tendencies are helpful if one wants to be Santa’s Little Helper. Either that, or he is destined to work in a Royal Mail sorting office. (On second thoughts, scratch that – he’s way too organised and efficient for that.)
Having completed this task – and with everyone including Toby now awake – he then set about the task of negotiating pre-breakfast present-opening. Could he open his presents now? Could he open just one? Could he open a small one? Could he help Grandpa open one of his presents? If he helped Grandpa open one of his presents, could he open one of his own too? And so on. It was classic ‘salami tactics’ – he probed repeatedly until he found something we would allow him to do, and then he ruthlessly sliced off one small concession after another until he got exactly what he wanted, i.e. everything. (Note to self: buy Zac Sun Tzu’s The Art of War next year – but make sure I read it first.)
It was, to put it mildly, hard work. When Wizzard sang I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday, obviously none of them had young kids. By 8:30 I was knackered. Every present had been opened, with Zac orchestrating proceedings by organising the handing-out of presents one at a time to everyone. Our little Captain OCD even tidied away all the used wrapping paper for us. Bless.
And so the morning went. The boys hared around the house with scooters and remote-controlled cars and all manner of other new toys while I locked myself away in the kitchen to sort out Christmas lunch. I did commit one schoolboy error here, which was to glance at the nutrition info on a jar of goose fat. I’m pretty sure I could feel my arteries hardening as I read it.
Anyway, lunch was a success – I’ve got big roasts down to a fine art now – and it was the first time that we’ve had a Christmas meal where it felt like all of us – even Toby – was an active participant in the experience. He enthusiastically tugged at crackers, pointed at dishes demanding we refill his plate, and generally chattered away. Like I said, a proper family Christmas.
Things got even better. Zac spent much of the afternoon playing games with the rest of us – something I hope he will grow into as he gets older. We watched the Christmas edition of Top of the Pops, at which point he insisted on drawing the curtains, turning the lights out, breaking out the glow sticks and then having a mini-rave with Toby in our living room. And then we settled down to watch Ratatouille, with both boys rapt by the film.
I have to say, I derived more enjoyment just from watching both our boys embrace all the traditional family elements of Christmas than I have from my last dozen or more Christmases combined. We had a brilliant Christmas Day. And as the boys grow older, it will hopefully only get better. For one thing, I’m going to let them do the fighting in Waitrose …