There are some Christmases he can remember clearly and others which he has forgotten. The ones where nothing much happened, or nothing of note anyway. Those years where there were no big disappointments, but no great surprises or joys either.
The Christmas I want to tell you about happened some years ago when things were simpler and less complicated.
The leaves have fallen from the trees and the nights come early, often at 4 in the afternoon. Its not a big town where he lives. Population 20,000 at the most. Its a nice town. The lights are switched on early December every year. He is 19 and still living at home. The shops are full of food that he enjoys and what a treat it is to enjoy all of it! He can spend his afternoons buying food and his evenings cooking it.
He fills himself up on mince pies and ginger bread. The countdown begins in December so that by the 24th he is in a frenzy of anticipation and excitement. That his day when the Christmas tree goes up. His mother is a traditionalist and won’t think of the tree being put in the house a day earlier. Some of the decorations are very old and are hung on the tree with great care. He will spend an hour positioning these Christmas ornaments so that the heavy ones hang on the lower branches and the lighter ones up higher. They are made of wood and cut glass. His mother bakes gingerbread cookies that are cut in star and heart shapes and decorated with hard sugar frosting. These are hung from lights and over the fireplace from red ribbons.
They never get the biggest tree but it looks magnificent in the corner of the room perched on top of an old wooden box. Sometimes he will sit watching it alone in the living room with the lights out, the Christmas tree lights twinkling and illuminating everything in the room. Even cosier is when the fire is burning and flickering and sending sparks flying in the living room.
For the ultimate Christmas feeling he will put on Christmas music by Frank Sinatra or Nat King Cole. Then he will pour himself a glass of wine and settle back in a chair reading stories by Dickens or – for something more modern -perhaps Bret Easton Ellis. There is a description of a glorious Christmas party in American Psycho where glamorous women drape themselves over be-suited Wall Street Traders and dwarfs dressed up as Christmas elves serve trays of Champagne. He has never tasted Champagne and the closest he has got to glamorous women is in Playboy. The December edition of that magazine features the centerfold for December who is normally dressed in some Christmas attire, though not for very long. The red and white costume worn by Miss December makes him feel both sentimental and horny at the same time.
The magazine contains, amongst other things, topical parodies of Christmas carols, an interview with a well known personality, and, along with the playmate of the month, a semi-famous celebrity who has gone nude for the magazine.
On Christmas Eve he will get up early and eat breakfast cooked by his mother. The tv stations show old films from 11 onwards. One he has watched for many years is Home Alone. The main character Kevin was about the same age he was when he first watched it. The film is something of a Christmas ritual. The main character is accidentally left at home at Christmas when his family go away on holiday and leave him behind. One scene in the film has always struck him as unusual and that is the scene where Kevin goes through his ablutions. No child he knows would spend so much time washing himself if his parents were out of the country. Most probably the producers of the film felt it would be cute to show a young boy applying aftershave and then touching his cheeks in pain at the burning feeling. The film is nevertheless highly enjoyable for all its improbabilities and his Christmas would not be the same without watching it.
His mother becomes stressed as the day wears on and the demands of Christmas began to get too much. He spends time in his bedroom listening to Christmas music. The radio stations play the same naff songs but he is aware that there are much better, more authentic Christmas songs out there. His favourite is the Christmas album by Phil Spector called a Christmas Gift For You. It goes at a fair old pace and contains some of his most cherished songs, among them Frosty the Snowman and the Dance of the Wooden Soldiers.
And although he sang the Christmas carols as a boy, they seem so solemn and gloomy now. How much more cheerful are these American songs of reindeer and snowmen!
It got dark around 4pm. This was when winters were really cold. He bundles up in coats and scarf and gloves to make short journeys outside. But if its cold he keeps moving, striding forwards.
How much warmer it feels when he’s back inside. There is a good fire going and it feels toasty sat in front of it.
It’s just him sat in front of the fire. He looks at the fire and the presents under the tree and suddenly he doesn’t feel so alone in the world.