There’s nothing like being around youngsters to make you feel your age at Christmas. Every year, around the end of November, my bookshop takes on Christmas temps to help us tackle the public in the run-up to the biggest consumer event of the calendar. We use them as shields when the public gets too much, so they must be light enough to hold aloft but resistant to the relentless jabbing of savage hoards. They create the frontline while us old’uns hide in corners weeping. “When did Christmas stop being so magical?” we wail into our company hipflasks. The temps motor on robotically with the oblivion of youth and the forcefield of hope. Like Terminators with dreams.
I find myself tutting at their youth as much as wanting to ruffle their heads. (In truth, it depends how many Beroccas I’ve had.) This week I found myself shaking my head as they got excited about Christmas. They told me what they were most looking forward to. The things they’ll do, the presents they’ll receive (otherwise they’ll take to the airing cupboard to felt-tip the shit out of an Emo colouring book or something). I’d never heard of most of the stuff they mentioned.
I was aware of myself, in my head, saying “it wasn’t like that when I was young” and I nearly slammed my head on the desk. I’ve become ‘that person’. Old.
I remember when all we got was books and basic toys and cool stationery. I am the new wave of “All we got was a Beano album, an HB pencil (unsharpened), and a jumper knitted by Gran”, which was the new wave of “All we got was a couple of monkey nuts and a tangerine in an old sock” which was the new wave of “All we got was the gizzards of a goose to suck, pigeon feather pants, a collage of Jesus made with desiccated mouse droppings, and an inappropriate marriage proposal from a first cousin with no teeth.”
Times have changed. They keep changing. It’s alarming.
And it’s alarming not only because young people are very different creatures, not only because Christmas yanks the world into a whirlpool of increased spending, but because Christmases never are what they…were. Christmases change, and they also reflect how we’ve changed. They are giant notches in our lives. They are pillars of our calendar. They are the last big bang before the new year barges in.
Everyone has at least one sacred Christmas. Lucky people have a general collective of sacred Christmases, plural, one big yuletide wash of wonderfulness. Some can take it or leave it, but they’ll still have a few that make them smile to remember.
I remember mine as a kid.
Chocolate tins and closed curtains, twinkling lights and the vague promise of snow. Matchmakers and Quality street and Victoriana, flaking painted tree decorations. Mum’s mid morning sherry in a tiny glass, heaped presents in named batches doled out with ceremonious open palms in a stretched hour of delicious ripping. Tags and bows and tinsel and floppy metallic lanterns and coils which concertinaed down from the ceiling or were draped by golden string around the corners of things. Piles of scrunched bright crispy paper and the smells which only come out of the oven once a year, sausage meat stuffing and scorched brandy, clementine juice bursting in neat cheeky droplets. The intoxicating timelessness of all the same songs and the warmth of familiar films like fireside burrows. People who don’t normally sit on the floor, sitting on the floor. All eyes kind and soft, going from face to face. The distance to people you suddenly feel in being near to people. Privately marking: here we are, together. Happiness caught in the arch of an eyelid lowered to something beautiful in the lap, lashes hiding the strange sadness that comes from being given something you know you will love forever.
Maybe that’s why we secretly tut at kids a bit at Christmas. At coddled youth, at terminators with dreams. Because they still think forever is the future.