It’s strange that a meal can be such a part of your upbringing, so much a family tradition and so culturally ingrained that it’s a surprise when someone else eats something different. That is how I feel about Christmas Dinner.
It’s even more surprising when you learn that others celebrate and exchange presents on a different day. I was surprised to learn that my German friends do their gift giving (Bescherung) on Christmas Eve (Heiligabend).
Then again, the routine in my own family has changed a little over the years.
I remember how magical Christmas seemed when I was growing up, when the anticipation, which built steadily from the opening of the first advent calendar window (with just a picture behind it, not chocolate), was almost unbearable.
Going to bed on Christmas Eve, often early as I remember it, I would lay my Paddington Bear pillow case at the foot of my bed to be filled by Father Christmas when he arrived.
In the morning, my brother and I would be up early, the excitement of the present opening process driving us out of bed.
We would then take our pillow cases full of presents to my Mum and Dad’s bedroom, where we would sit on the floor and tear off wrapping paper, whilst they watched for our reactions from their bed.
In our pillow case as well as our main presents there would always be: a bag of gold coins (from Marks & Spencer), an assortment of other chocolate and a satsuma and/or an apple.
Soon after the present opening was finished and still very early, my mum would go downstairs to put the turkey in the oven.
In my early years the turkey was a perk of my Dad’s job. I remember one year he came home with a bird so big that mum had to cut the legs off to even fit it in the oven.
With the lunch preparations underway we would move downstairs and play with our toys and eat chocolate – “don’t eat so many that you spoil your lunch”.
In the background, Christmas music would play. There were other albums, but the one that I will always associate with those times is Perry Como’s Christmas album.
Lunch is turkey with all the trimmings – so many trimmings in fact that my dad needs two plates.
The turkey is stuffed with parsley and thyme and sausage meat. There are Roast potatoes and new potatoes. As if that’s not enough, there are carrots, cauliflower, broccoli, beans, parsnip and sprouts. And everything is covered in gravy.
These days, the present opening is delayed until the afternoon of Christmas Day. This is when my niece and nephew arrive. They are now the focus of the attention. The almost unbearable anticipation now is to see their faces light up as they unwrap their gifts. My excitement comes from seeing their reaction to getting something they really wanted.