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My Favorite Christmas

When I was a tadpole in London, England there was no one particularly favorite Xmas, although there was a very sad & drab one the year my Daddy died. Xmas was, as my English mistress said (hush now, back in the '50s that was how we called our teachers!), an acceptable form cuz when handwritten the X became a cross.

Rather it was the rituals of the Holiday that I loved, especially the writing of Xmas Lists over which my older brothers & I labored with that bursting pride of the newly literate.

The Gift List was the first we composed, after we all got home from boarding schools, on the day Daddy bought The Tree from a yodeling chap clip-clopping along our street on his horsedrawn barrow (wagon) & Mummy opened the Ornament Boxes. We'd all sit around the dining table in the formation we ate our meals, chewing on our pencils & writing down what we'd made at school or could afford from our pocket money for each other & our relatives.

We'd watch Daddy dress The Tree while Mummy was in the kitchen preparing the magical Christmas Pudding (for the next year, by the way). Each in our turn would be called in to stir the aromatic mass of dried fruits & spices, make our Wishes & drop in boiled coins of the realm.

As Advent progressed we'd open each new day on our calendars, finish getting our gifts, usually from the stalls & stores of Portobello Market, & check off the names on our lists.

Every evening Mummy would sit after dinner addressing dozens of social & business cards from her worn address book. Our task was to seal & stamp those thick envelopes & then take each day's batch, & the dog, to the nearby tall red pillar box (mailbox).

Coming up after WWII, in a time of rationing, saving paper was a must, so we were exhorted to unwrap our gifts carefully. No Scotch tape yet! I learnt how to iron by smoothing the colorful paper & ribbons before storing 'em away in the box Mummy would bring out for us to wrap our gifts & make labels in secret.

On Xmas Eve, in the sitting room with the shutters closed & curtains drawn & the coal fire burning brightly, with the BBC's Concert of Carols on the wireless, we'd ferret out scraps of wrapping paper too small for gifts & write our Wish Lists. Then we'd toss 'em into the flames & watch the sparks, which we called Fairies, rise up the chimney taking our yearnings to Father Christmas.

Early Xmas Day we'd wake each other up & exchange presents. Then we'd gather outside our parents' bedroom to sing Carols. In later years, I'd still be singing while my brothers blew a trumpet, strummed a guitar & banged on a drum. When they'd put up with enough Daddy would call us in & we'd bounce onto their bed, proffer our presents & watch Mummy's electric tea maker brew her first cup of the day.

After what seemed ages our parents would wrap themselves in their dressing gowns (robes) & lead us downstairs to wait beside the tall, tick-tocking grandfather clock while Daddy crept into the dining room to see if Father Christmas had come. Then he'd open the door wide & beckon us in where the Xmas Tree Lights glowed. I remember real candles which took Daddy forever to set alight & had to be blown out before we could get to the gifts. It was a wondrous year when he brought home an electric set of lights.

By the time I was old enough to notice, Mummy had the opening ritual finely tuned. Each could take one gift at a time, read aloud the name of the donor for her to write down on the appropriate list & only then, with everyone watching, were we allowed to open it, carefully! Once we'd uncovered the contents we had to sing out what it was so she could add that too.

The next morning being Boxing Day (& my youngest brother's birthday), with our new toys & clothes neatly piled under The Tree, we'd pack into gift boxes things we no longer wanted or had outgrown for Mummy to take to the Dr. Bernardo orphanage. There were a lot of orphans just after The War, & because my youngest brother & I were adopted, we knew something about that.

After breakfast, we'd sit again at the dining table with the lists Mummy had made & write our Thank-You Letters to show our progress in literacy & manners. Then it was off to post 'em, visit Daddy's brother & his family across town, & on to The Circus!