Christmas at home, as a child, was magical. My mother (she made Audrey Hepburn look like chickenfeed) would dress up. My handsome father would glow with pride. My eldest brother would cause a row with his refusal to go smart. My older sister would chivvy and keep us in order. My second brother, just 18 months older than I, would make me giggle. All day.
Breakfast was 8am prompt. Father would bang a gong in the hall, indicating 5 minutes. Then another to say: “Where are you? It’s on the table!” Father was Breakfast King. We gathered, we ate, and then the scramble to 10 o’clock Mass, the four of us reluctantly squashed into the back of the Merc. British Racing Green; Mother resplendent in the front seat; Father smiling with pleasure at his family.
Mother made fresh ravioli; we always had roast chicken – none of us liked duck. Or goose. Or stuffing. Or any of those English things. Mother made Christmas cake and trifle. Some elderly folk from the Little Sisters of the Poor home would join us. Mr Viel I remember well; he had been a regular at my Father’s café. A formerly aristocratic Swiss gentleman fallen on hard times. Always elegant and upright in his faded, mended suit. On learning of his predicament, Mother secured him a place at the home and made sure he was cared for with affection.
In continental fashion, our celebration was on Christmas Eve. Songs, poetry learned by heart for the occasion, piano recitals, gifts. Family rows. Family love.
I tried to engender the same for my family when it arrived. Christmas Eve had to be sacrificed: my Scottish husband would not contemplate such sacrilege. But we had fun, too. Christmas is when there are fuzzy rules about good behaviour, about eating and drinking too much. Happy days.
Years later, a broken marriage – what to do? My Ex Husband has always been a fabulous father to our Girls. On the first Christmas with my New Partner, an understandably difficult situation, he put pride to one side and joined us. New Partner and Ex Husband created Christmas lunch together, commencing early, in matching white Habitat bathrobes: the Odd Couple for sure and appropriately, they were both pissed by lunchtime. We were joined by a motley crew of East London friends away from their own families: a small army of happy waifs and strays. The piano recitals were jazzier, the conversation louder and laughter, well, we all laughed until we cried.
Fast-forward a few more years and the New Partner has gone. The Girls and I are still joined by their Dad. We remain on friendly terms and the bits that we liked about each other to start with, still manifest themselves by way of conversation, familiarity, terrible jokes and, of course, our beautiful daughters.
The first Christmas we had here was a triumph. Dad came to stay on Christmas Eve and we had a jolly dinner. He became responsible for the food: breakfast, followed by present-giving, followed by lunch preparation, followed by a family hike up the road, across freezing London Fields and back again. We returned to perfectly roasted duck (I liked it after all) and a splendid time. In the middle of which, one of the Girls observed:
“We’re the only family in the whole of England not arguing today. Because you two don’t live together any more.”
And so it has come to pass. Four years later, we’re looking forward to the same disjointed family Christmas, with or without friends and new partners, who knows? We will laugh because that’s what we do together; the glue endures, because there are no politics, there is no lingering irritation. Just two people who, a long time ago made two beautiful children, spending a rare, uncomplicated day all together as only a very modern family can.
Christmas is a time to forgive, to forget and to love.
For families like ours, there’s no better excuse.
Happy Christmas, one and all.
To read more from Giovanna, do take a look at her blog called fortewinks.