We all remember fondly the rituals of Christmas in our youth. I remember one such ritual with especial fondness. High in a cupboard in the entrance hall was a wide, flat cardboard box in which a suit had been delivered to my father. The tailor’s name – Hector Powe, – was on the box’s lid. Inside was the household collection of Christmas wrapping paper.
I had my favourite sheets, as I suppose did the other members of the family. They were like old friends and I took great care not to damage them with sticky tape or excessive creasing. They were never cut, of course, so the sizes of gifts and wrappings had to be carefully matched. I don’t remember new wrapping paper ever being bought.
The tailor’s box and its contents have gone – a casualty of my mother’s downsizing to a flat. But in the bottom drawer of a filing cabinet I keep a smaller box with a wide enough assortment of wrappings for my present needs. Every year some sheets are lost from the collection, to be replaced by new ones from which I have meticulously peeled as such of the sticky tape as I can. Small blemishes are covered up by ‘From/To’ cards, stick-on reindeer and the like.
My Christmasses would not be quite the same without this.
During the past week Mrs SG and I have attended two carol-singing events organised by local councils. People of all ages brought folding chairs and picnics and sang along with some very talented choirs and bands. Santa Claus found time to drop in on both occasions.
I am an atheist, but brought up in a Christian cultural environment. I don’t believe that Jesus was the Son of God, any more than I believe in the existence of God, but I was moved nonetheless by The Christmas Story and even felt my eyes moisten during Good King Wenceslas.
The same moistening happened when I read the last chapter of Watership Down, when the Black Rabbit of Inlé came for Hazel. I was on a Liverpool-bound train to visit my mother for the first time since my father died. And I was shedding tears for a dead fictional rabbit.
It also happened every time I read the last chapter of The House at Pooh Corner to our elder son – the chapter where Christopher Robin tries to explain to Pooh that he’s going off to school and things won’t be the same. It’s the end of childhood, the end of innocence.
So I sort of understand people who have been brought up in other religious and literary traditions for whom the stories they heard when they were very young resonate deep within throughout their lives. Sometimes that resonance cause them to do irrational and even – in my eyes – wicked things.