On the first of December, Christmas begins.
The beloved, travelled Christmas box is unearthed from the basement – or whichever solitary corner it spent the past eleven months – and its contents are merrily ushered out into the light. Boney M plays obnoxiously in the background and we take turns crowning each pet in the tiniest Christmas hat known to mankind. This year we have a real tree to adorn with our haphazard collection of sentimental ornaments. As we roll off the bubble wrap, we reminisce over our life. The picture of a Christmas school play, camels trotting around a bauble, a nativity scene carved out of olive wood from Palestine: they’re all fragments of anecdotes littered across our life.
“This,” my mom reminds us, “is Chanel’s last Christmas as a child.” Suddenly everything is a momentous last, and more than ever this year marks the start of change. I use this milestone as an excuse to usurp Gemma’s hold on the honourable position of putting the star on top of the tree. The family gathers round as we place the finishing touches of decor and eagerly open the first advent box.
The next few days progress with casual reminders that it is indeed the most wonderful time of the year. Snow falls on a wintery wonderland-ish suburbia, carols play in the rush hours of a toasty pizzeria, and each advent box opened is a thrill following the reveal of a tasty – or sometimes practical – treat. My birthday is not overshadowed by other celebrations but rather unites the two. I unwrap my own gifts and later tie up presents for my family. I drink cranberry ale from the advent box and eat a slice of cake. The sixth is as lovely as it is delicious.
Christmas Eve Eve is underappreciated. Magical things happen the day before the magic is observed. Paige and I go Christmas shopping and surprise each other in advance with our gifts. There are inside jokes and secret presents and Chinese food when we’re all mall-ed out. I spend the rest of the day wrapping with the cutest paper, patterned with sausage dogs in jumpers and Christmas hats, discovered when I was supposed to be buying formal wear. (The holidays can make you over-excited.)
The twenty-fourth smells like a candle bought six years ago and joyfully burnt ever December since – quintessential of Christmas Eve. We collate a variety of cheeses, crackers, mince pies, chocolate and fruit, and invite the neighbours – who bring their own secret recipe of cheese dip, cookies and chips. We play board games and chink our glasses of fancy drinks (my mom slips me a droplet of wine but it’s bitter and dry and I’d rather have some sparkling grape juice instead.) Together we painstakingly build a village out of gingerbread and icing. The end result is not the same perfectly constructed model town depicted on the box, but it’s homey and humorous (and looks yummy too).
The evening draws on and the neighbours leave. We all retire to our various bedrooms, stomachs stuffed and heads fuzzy for sleep. I spend the midnight hours writing cards and summing up the wonder of my family over this year into a few lovingly pencilled paragraphs.
Christmas Day is just like every other Christmas I can remember, and I love it for that. Bed-hair and pyjamas sit on the floor and open presents together, reaching into stockings and recycling wrapping paper. It’s warm and it’s magical – like sitting around a campfire while fireflies dance above you. We eat leftovers from the night before for lunch and walk it off in the snow. The dogs bound around the frosty fields, chasing their tails and sniffing out mice. Paige builds a baby snowman and Gemma wanders into the woods. The rest of the afternoon is spent cooking together, revelling in our new gifts and finally sitting down to eat. There are crackers, followed by paper hats and silly jokes with terrible translations that make them all the funnier. There’s turkey for days – it’ll probably last into the new year – and an abundance of roasted of vegetables. There’s sparkly juice in wine glasses and the merry clinking of glasses. As the sun sets, we gather in the lounge to eat trifle and watch silly movies. We individually succumb to the gravity of our eyelids and tuck ourselves into bed.
The twenty-sixth means collecting every piece of Christmas scattered around the house and sealing it back in the beloved travelled Christmas box. The house is rid of the festive clutter, the uncoordinated red and green decor. As quickly as the tree was up, everything is tucked away again. By noon, December is just… December.
Silly humans are we, watching as the river floods over, waiting for the first snow to fall, performing the same rituals over and over again. We live in a little spiral, living the same day on schedule. Like clockwork – the seasons tick by to the next holiday, until the ball drops and the reset button puts us back at the start. Like marbles – rolling down the multi-coloured tracks, trying in vain to move on when they hit the bottom, but they’re lifted up by a divine child’s hand and pushed down the slide again.
But it’s comforting. And it’s exciting. These are customs and rituals that shape some corners of your mind, that sculpt memories out of the grey clay that might have gone untouched without these little celebrations.
On the first day of December, Christmas begins. The next twenty-five days are smiles and songs and spending time together. A little over three weeks of the thrill of surprises, savouring every morsel, and spending money to watch the people you love light up. And on the twenty-sixth, we pack it away until next year.