As an octogenarian, looking back on a long ago childhood, I realize that many things have changed…some for the better…some for the worse but, thankfully, Christmas is still a time of magic for little children.
On Christmas Eve, I was steered through a forest
of long black skirts and sturdy boots thronging
the local market. Above my head
bartering voices and swinging lamps
halo-ing briefly, the heads of the passing crowd.
Crunchy cinders beneath my shoes,
small legs leather-gaitered against the cold,
I gazed eye-level at stalls patch-worked with
carrots, apples, bananas and, at this time of year
…oranges wrapped in silver paper; boxes of dates
with strange pictures on the lids and most tempting of all,
small round boxes of sugared orange and lemon slices.
I knew that Christmas was nearly here… I couldn’t wait.
Another stall with meat pies, sausages, pigs heads and
upside-down birds hanging from the frame
and a large man in a blue and white striped apron
hovering over a chopping board with a huge knife.
I knew he was a giant. I heard him say “Fe-fi-fo-fum”
Excitement growing as the flickering lanterns
caught the sparkle of tinsel and bright glass baubles,
holly and mistletoe, the voices of stall-holders
crying their wares and me, dragging my mother
to the toy stall; every item desirable, muttering
a silent plea to Father Christmas.
Carol singers rattling cans under the lamppost,
cold but hopeful or knocking on doors with
the first verse of King Wenceslas.
In the High Street, shop windows dressed with
cotton wool snow and the Holy Family gazing out
at the hurrying passers-by trudging homeward to
coal fires, suppers, armchairs and the wireless.
Anticipation, dressing the tree: sending
pencil-scribbled messages up the chimney to
Father Christmas, on the rising smoke from the fire
and early to bed without a murmur.
Morning six o’clock dark and rustling sounds
at the foot of the bed. Groping, feeling shapes,
guessing, hoping…delight! Finally, the stocking;
a myriad small mysteries until we reached
the pink sugar mouse and orange bulging the toe.
“Wake up, wake up, it’s Christmas Day.”
Mum and Dad holding on to sleep, reluctant
to crawl into the day, feign surprise at what
Father Christmas has brought.
Jack Frost patterning the window panes. Peeping out
hoping for snow to crunch through on our way
to church to see if the baby Jesus has arrived in
the nativity scene. He wasn’t there yesterday.
He must have come in the night.
We sang carols to welcome His birthday.
Home to dinner and Gran and Granddad
pulling crackers, and me, in the sleepy afternoon,
curled up like the cat on the mat in front of the fire,
reading my favourite Annual and
wearing my new furry slippers…Christmas!
I still remember the magic.
© Marion Sharville