On Thursday 27th September, my world shattered. The phone rang and I got the devastating news that my mum had passed away after over two weeks in hospital.
My mum had been battling with breast and liver cancer for the past year and a half. I don’t want to go into much detail about the illness because it’s still quite painful and the wound is still very deep.
With Christmas fastly approaching, I have tried to shut everything out and not join in any of the festivities going on around me. I don’t feel like celebrating at the moment.
Now, I have woken up on Christmas day, terribly sad, but there is a part of me that finding comfort in how the festive season had been on previous years.
Mum played Christmas songs and other Christmas carols at full blast as soon as the calendar showed it was December first. Christmas songs weren’t played in the house, a day before, or a day after. On 1st December, Christmas songs were played on full blast and it vibrated around the house. The music was played very loudly and was in competition with mum’s out of tune singing voice. Mum sang each Christmas song at the top of her lungs, you couldn’t escape it. She did every day in December, more and more as Christmas approached. You couldn’t help but join in with her.
Christmas songs on fall blast, she would set to work decorating the house. Our Christmas cards would be hung over a very long, piece of string. There were always small competitions between the three of us, we would try and see how many Christmas cards we had, whoever had the largest amount won. The three of us were very competitive with each other, it was always very close races. Actually, the three of us had collected so many Christmas cards between us, they not only filled the spaces on the piece of string, but we had to blue-tack them to the side of the stairs so we could view them all.
The three of us would work together and decorate the house from top to bottom. Mum had a considerable amount of energy. She never would let things lie until she was satisfied with everyone. The Christmas decorations were down from the loft, tinsel was draped around the bannisters of the stairs and she had put twinkly lights in every free space. Animotric Santas and battery operated bulbles were placed in the house and they were set off by a single clap. Riefs of holly were hung on the front door, so people would feel Christmasy from the moment they entertained the house. Two years ago, my mum went one step further and brought another Christmas decoration for the house in the shape of a fluorescent reindeer. Dad absolutely hates it, but still, it sits pride of place at the bottom of the stairs.
Mum and dad always brought our Christmas tree each year, which seemed of good quality, but we did think the trees malted very quickly and soon died. So, the last few years, we brought a fake Christmas tree, which didn’t look as good but the tree lasted a long time which was much better. The themes of the decorations in the house were also in the Christmas tree. Mum particular liked the colour scheme of silver and ruby red, while I Harry Potter themed decorations to the tree.
This year, dad and I didn’t feel Christmasy, but we got a Christmas tree because we have felt like we had too. But now we have decorated the tree to the extent the mum would have, with all the Christmas tinsel and bulbles, we do in fact a bit more Christmasy.
Mum was always ahead of the game and started Christmas shopping in November. She always had a great eye for early Christmas deals and was quick to seize them. Her organisation and Christmas enthusiasm was infectious, mum and I created our Christmas shopping lists and shopped and got everything we needed for ourselves as well as others, before all of the Christmas chaos that comes with the start of December. Mum absolutely refused to go anywhere near any shopping centres from the start of the Christmas season.
As soon as I would break up from school or college, mum would start to have time off with me and we were able to get the house ready for Christmas. One of the things mum loves to do every Christmas was bake for the family. She started off by baking small dishes such as mince pies and small cakes which our family could enjoy over Christmas day and Boxing Day. Then as the years went by she baked more and more until she was known for baking the mince pies and the cakes as well as fresh sausage rolls as well as other dishes. My mum loves to bake and even when she was getting very ill she continued to bake and create new recipes to be enjoyed by the family.
Dad always worked until mid-afternoon on Christmas Eve so my mum and I were often together baking in the kitchen with Christmas songs on loud. While the dishes that we baked were cooking in the oven, We made sure to continue decorating the house and preparing for the next three days as we knew it would be non stop. Having a big family and group of friends, we have to split our celebrations to be able to see everyone. On Christmas Eve, my dad would get back from work and we would go out with his cousins. We would all go out for a few drinks, maybe a bite to eat. We all chatted and had a good night. My favourite memory of Christmas Eve up to date was two years ago, mum had just had an operation on her foot and was in a wheelchair. She was having a lot to drink and got merry, so much so, that when we were on our way out, mum was singing very out of tune, wishing everyone she passed, Merry Christmas. When they did not say Merry Christmas in return, she poked them with her crutch. I should have stopped her, but I couldn’t stop laughing. Returning home, dad helped her upstairs and she fell face down onto the bed. The next morning, she woke up and miraculously she thought she could see, only to discover she had fallen asleep with her contact lenses in.
When I was younger, I used to get very excited and didn’t want to go to sleep. I left a generous glass of milk for Father Christmas and a carrot for each of the raindeers. When mum and dad, finally got me into bed, I stayed awake all night, unable to sleep and not wanting to miss the arrival of Father Christmas. As I got slightly older I remained awake from excitement, but then I decided that Father Christmas would not come if he saw I was awake but instead of this fact making me fall asleep I found myself more and more awake. In the end, mum and dad gave up and lifted me into their bed, that was their only way of getting me to sleep.
On Christmas morning, I would wake up so excited I was practically bouncing up and down in my bed. I think the early is that I got my mum and dad up on Christmas morning was 6:30 am. To their credit, mum and dad were enthusiastic, even with the earliness of the hour and we moved from my bedroom to the lounge. My eyes widened at the number of presents which sat under the tree and there were years which my mum and dad’s at me on the sofa and piled the presence around me. I’m sure dad still has the videos somewhere. I would read the eagerly into my presents and express my delight and gratitude before moving on to the next present. Mum and dad also opened presents that they had received for Christmas. While we all opened our presents, we eat chocolates and listened to Christmas songs. Now, mum and dad have to wake me up on Christmas morning, but the Christmas morning routine. After I had opened a few of my presents mum and dad would go back upstairs and continue opening the rest of the gifts from each other and from other people, while I enjoyed one of my gifs while I waited for them.
Dad would then come back downstairs fully dressed and came and got me ready for the day while mum got herself ready. We always had a leisurely Christmas morning but once it hit about 11am it was always and rush to get things ready for when people came. Apart from one exception, mum had purposely set the table and peeled the potatoes, the night before, so it was two fewer things for her to do under the pressures of Christmas day.
Both of my grandparents came and so did my nan. My great auntie also came. It really was Christmas when the seven of us got together because we hardly get a chance to in the rest of the year. They would each come, bang on 11am and contributed something to Christmas dinner. My nan and my grandma helped my mum cook Christmas dinner and my dad and granddad received orders from the women in the family and complied. All of that day had to work exactly to the minute, My grandparents liked dinner to be served at 1pm and my great auntie loved to watch the Queen speech at 3pm. I thought it was too much pressure on Mum especially when she got ill but she remained enthusiastic and cheerful concerning everything Christmas and wanted to do her best for the family. Our Christmas dinner had piles of everything you would want in a Christmas dinner. Plenty of meat and potatoes, mash, pigs in blanket and assorted vegetables. Mum always cooked enough Christmas dinner to feed an army but none of us complained. Despite the size of the dinner, mum always managed to forget something but honestly it was never entirely missed. We pulled Christmas crackers and put it on our party hats, making toasts to those who cannot be with us on this specialist and days.
The Queen’s Speech wasn’t my favourite part of the day but it made my auntie happy so we all finished dinner for 3pm and sat down and watched it. My auntie was the only one watching the Queen’s speech while the rest of us chatted. Once the Queen speech was over we all sat down with our puddings and watched the Christmas movie on BBC One which always preceded the Queen’s Speech. For a while, we just sat and enjoyed the film feeling so full after our food and just enjoyed the film. As the day moved in the evening dad slipped away and picked up my older brother who had spent Christmas Eve and the first half of Christmas day with his mum and now was coming to spend the rest of Christmas with us. With Alex now with us we finished opening all of our presents together as a family, I started to put some presents aside so I could open them at the same time as Alex which made it much more fun and it broke up today as well. Shortly after Alex and I had finished opening our presents, dad seemingly slipped away, claiming his car needed petrol. Not long after dad left, came a knock on the door, going to answer it, I saw it was Father Christmas. I can remember how excited I got. Father Christmas had taken time out of his busy schedule to come to my house. He came every year and always came bearing a present. Years past and I started to piece together dad’s absence and the sudden appearance of Father Christmas. It just seemed too much of a coincidence to be true. The person who I thought to be Father Christmas was actually dad dressed in a Father Christmas outfit. According to my mum, my dad was bouncing on the balls of his feet, elated with being able to secure the outfit. It makes so much sense now, why dad was out when Father Christmas came and why mum kept hugging and kissing him. But I must admit I do miss that magical time that came with not knowing the truth.
Completely worn out, my grandma and my nan enjoyed that evening’s soaps, while the rest of us enjoyed our presents before we all retired to bed for the night.
According to my mum and my auntie, my mum’s sister, our boxing day tradition started when they were children. My grandparents and my great auntie used to take it in turns hosting boxing day at their house. In keeping with this tradition, we spent boxing day at different houses each year. One year my mum hosted it in Birmingham, at our house and the next year, we were at my auntie’s house in Wales. As our family grew, it was hard to fit us all into one house, but we kept the tradition and hired somewhere for us all to be together. Boxing day was magical and it was my favourite part of Christmas. It was made all the way better and somewhat funny, was my mum buying identical Christmas jumpers, one to wear herself and one for her sister. My auntie didn’t disguise her distaste for the Christmas jumpers and outfits, but my mum’s eagerness for them won out. The following day, we all went out to the shopping centre as a family, mum and my auntie always slipped away to go to the Next Sale and returned with many shopping bags. We all enjoyed our day out, spending all of our Christmas money.
The new year, we had a different tradition, this time it was just me, mum and dad and the three off us went to Southampton for the new year celebrations. After busy Christmases, we needed time for just the three of us. It was much more relaxing in Southampton, but we wouldn’t have Christmas any other way. We enjoyed the last of Christmas celebrations in a different city and days out at their Christmas market. We shopped in their city centre and took advantage of the deals. A few days before new year, we made reservations at our choice of restaurant for new year’s eve. On the night, every bar and restaurant was packed, we were so glad we pre-booked. For the first few years, we spent new year in Southampton, we remained in the restaurant past the new year mark and waited for everyone to cheer, but more often than not, there were half-hearted cheers. My mum’s cheers and whoops were the loudest of them all and dad and I joined in. Recent years saw the three of us eating out on new year’s eve, but then we returned to our flat to see the new year in. Having already had food, we enjoyed a few drinks at the flat and watched BBC One’s coverage of the new year celebrations. At the second, clocks hit midnight, fireworks were set off and the sound of boat horns filled the sky, echoing our new year cheers. Feeling a sudden lift in the new year cheer, we have done the same thing every year up until last year.
I am really struggling, especially around this time of year. But I have to cherish these memories and keep our family ties strong. Together we need to hold on to these traditions to keep ourselves going!