Strange business, Christmas

Christmas tree 2017

It’s Christmas Eve morning and I’ve had my croissant and pain au chocolat. We normally have much healthier muesli, but as we bought a boxful of butter laden pastry morning goods for the visitors, why not raid one or two?

No sign of life from the visitors – they probably need the sleep. I’ve opened the shutters and switched on the Christmas tree lights. Two strings of small lights circle the tree.

This year we have rescued ducks from an old set and plonked them on some of the lights. Now we have ducks, angels, flowers, snowmen, robins, stars and balls. Not a sign of tinsel, thank you.

But the lights… They work, almost with demonic insistence, they work. I kneel down and flick the master control. The receptors in my eyeballs are singed with airburst level blazing lights. Even Jupiter’s thunderbolts didn’t flash like these little horrors. I fumble with the control box, pressing maniacally through the programs to find the still, gentle state of just being ‘on’. No flashing, nor fading nor alternating, nor Mexican waving – just on. At the seventh press, tranquillity returns and I sit back, the adrenalin dispersing, heart rate reducing, happiness returning.

My question: why can’t the default setting be just ‘on’? Why must the lights start in agitation mode? Where are the dim, but gentle fairly lights of my childhood?

Then I started to think. Dangerous, I know. In 2017, we all have to ‘hit the ground running’, ‘be up for it’, run five kilometres before 6 a.m. Images, news, stories, information, rants, alternative facts bombard us 24/7. The lights in life are on agitated flashing mode by default.

Christmas 2015 (author’s son’s photo)

Christmas itself is when generations meet; they laugh, bicker, sulk, drink, eat different food and visit their parents’ friends, but they also talk face to face, go on walks, rest and watch films and Christmas specials together. They live in different worlds, or bubbles, and while they touch, they can never fully integrate again. Younger ones are bored by the accounts of older ones’ operations; older ones don’t understand their children’s job titles, let alone what they do all day at their work. But somehow, they do touch here and there.

Which brings me to emotional blackmail… When I was younger, it was ‘expected ‘ by my parents and parents of their generation who had fought a terrible war and only desired a stable and happy family life afterwards, to ‘go home’ for Christmas. You may be in your forties and have your own children with their own needs for a family Christmas, but if you didn’t report for duty in your parents’ home, you were in trouble. Don’t get me wrong – I loved it. A week of no work, sleeping in, no domestic chores, drink on tap, great talks, stories and jokes. But it was always assumed. Hurt, anger and bewilderment flowed down the phoneline if you tried to make a break for it. So you gave in. If you were married, you alternated between parents or you did a Tour d’Angleterre for two weeks on the middle of winter and returned to work in January, exhausted but relieved.

Christmas 1960 (author’ father’s photo)

In my turn, I love having my adult child and partner (aka daughter in law) here. We’re not very exciting, but they seem to keep coming back. But we never ask and we never expect. I vowed that when I became the older generation, I would never demand their presence, and I don’t. But I’m really rather pleased they want to come and see us…

So, no more fuzzy felt, jigsaws, listening quietly to Childrens’s Hour on the wireless, learning to knit in front of a coal fire and starting the ‘thank you’ letters of my childhood. Today it’s watching The Crown on Netflix, posting and tweeting with transcontinental friends on tablets, phones and laptops, using the Jacquie Lawson e-card service, swapping trends, jokes and stories. Talking of which we have a new trend chez Morton: a multiple international Skype on Christmas morning, all participants with a glass of bubbly in their hand.

But we still have a good lunch, Christmas pud and listen to the Queen at 3pm. And I have learnt to tame the bloody lights.


Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers INCEPTIO, PERFIDITASSUCCESSIOAURELIAINSURRECTIO and RETALIO.  CARINA, a novella, is available for download now. Audiobooks are available for the first four of the series.

Find out more about Roma Nova, its origins, stories and heroines… Get INCEPTIO, the series starter, for FREE when you sign up to Alison’s free monthly email newsletter

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