My Family Christmas Tree

My family tree is stunted. I will never be a candidate for ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ I can’t get further than a few branches above.

Both my mother and father were only children. Both my mother’s adopted parents are long dead. I never knew them. My father’s mother died when he was tiny and his father re-married and died shortly after. My step grandmother with the Wallis Simpson hair was unfortunately loathed as much by my mother as the real Wallis by the British public for taking away their beloved King. Once she existed on a diet of lemons and we joked that must have been what had made her so sour.

Christmas Past  

Wallis the widow was who we spent Christmas with. At her house. We were drilled in the car as to what we could and couldn’t let on. We watched as my father metamorphosed into a mouse.  

My sister and I made the best of it. We slept in a huge mahogany bed with carvings that looked like Cadbury’s Dairy Milk and we broke off pieces, giggling in the dark. We always got the same presents, differentiated by colour. And when my baby sister came along, seven years later, it was easy to make it all about her. 

But when my elder sister died, grief descended upon the house enveloping us like a thick blanket of snow that hung upon the eaves, cutting us off from the outside world. Christmas became something ‘to be got through.’

I longed for a huge family Christmas with uncle snoring in the corner, a wallpaper pasting trestle table having to be put alongside the main one for the kids, sticky kisses and spoiling from grandparents, squabbling over the Quality Street, charades and eggnog, writing place names in your best calligraphy, filling the guest room with soap and towels.  

When I get married, I thought, I’m going to choose someone with siblings, with nieces and nephews, with so many cousins they can’t name them all.  

Flash-forward to Christmas present

I’m married to a man who is himself an only child, adopted by elderly parents. He has not one single cousin. Nor aunt. Nor uncle. Nor grandparent.  

In fact I am not telling the whole story. I do have some relations. My mother traced her birth parents. And hey – there was her family. Half brothers and uncles and aunts and cousins, all living near one another and popping round each others houses and mantelpieces bowing under the weight of pictures of grandchildren. Save ours.  

We were given a peek then the door clanged shut. Too complicated, too many secrets and lies. It almost makes it worse knowing they are there and we’re not invited to the feast. We feel like Tiny Tim pressing his face up against the glass window of the toyshop.  

I want to make Christmas special for my little family. It is small but it is mine. 

I cling to my own rituals and traditions.

My friends  – and my husband – try and wrench the rose tinted spectacles off my nose. They tell me of the push-me pull-you of relatives and in-laws and grandparents, of complicated custody arrangements and 400 mile round trips to drop off their kids at a motorway service station off the M4.  

I buy Country Living magazine although I live in town – seduced by its pictures of families all aglow on their post Christmas dinner country walks and blonde children in their tartan pyjamas and goose for 12 and bedecked trees and three types of stuffing. I pore over Jamie and Delia and Nigella.

 I know I have an idealised vision of Christmas. But I can’t quite get rid of it.


3 Responses to “My Family Christmas Tree”

  1. 1 geekymummy December 17, 2009 at 4:11 pm

    It can be rose tinted. My family are all in a different country and I miss them around the holidays because our Christmases were just like the one you dream of, filled with family and love. You will create it for your own family, and they will cherish the memories. It is worth it.

  2. 2 Dulwich divorcee December 17, 2009 at 5:34 pm

    I feel for you. Hope you have a small but perfectly formed Christmas

  3. 3 Iota December 17, 2009 at 11:20 pm

    Christmas can be sad as well as happy. I think you are doing the right thing to focus on your own family. You can create lovely memories for them (unlike your own), and rituals that they can continue. You can make so much right for them, even if you can’t supply the rose-tinted relatives.

    You can do all those decorations, and meals, and tartan pyjamas, even if you don’t have 12 children to join you in them.

    Maybe you could experiment one year, when your children are of an age to be able to do this, and help out at a local old people’s home, or similar. My mum organised for us to do that for a period of time, and though I can’t say I enjoyed it terribly, it did give a real purpose to the day. If you do it one year and you don’t like it, you don’t have to do it again. Worth a try?

    Thanks for sharing. I am going to think of you on Christmas Day, I promise.

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