George Cheyne: Glasgow, December 2021
I’ve had this recurring dream since early December where a ghostly female figure from the 1970s hovers above my bed.
There’s no icy chill in the room, no clanking chains and no spooky noises. This is a friendly ghost.
Looking uncannily like my mum did back in the day, she is wearing a pair of black slacks, a light blue Fair Isle jumper with rolled-up sleeves and a red pinny on top.
The apparition appears most nights and carries out all sorts of tasks connected to the festive season.
It started with baking a cake and then moved on to writing loads of cards, hanging paper chain decorations, making home-made mince pies, sticking up our own advent calendars, marking a tick in the Littlewoods catalogue beside presents we might ask Santa for, mixing all the ingredients for a Christmas pudding and circling the TV programmes we’d like to watch in the festive editions of the Radio Times and TV Times.
As well as all that, the friendly ghost has been putting up a real tree, prepping loads of fresh vegetables, rubbing a mound of butter and herbs into a giant turkey, digging out a well-worn box of Monopoly, putting on Perry Como’s Christmas LP, arranging bottles of Babycham, Cinzano Rosso, Advocaat, Campari and Port on top of an improvised “drinks cabinet” and sending invites out to family and friends to pop round to our house…the Host of Christmas Past, if you will.
I feel it’s my mum’s way of steering me back down the road of having a traditional Crimbo after sensing my resolve has been wavering.
Now, if all this bears more than a passing resemblance to the plot of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, then you’ll be thinking I’m the Ebenezer Scrooge character – but I’m not having that.
It’s my dream, so I see myself more as the Host of Christmas Present and it would make my kids the Host of Christmas Future.
So why the gentle nudge from above to remind me of all those rituals of yesteryear? Well, it’s probably because I’ve let a few traditions slide over the years.
Let’s go through that list above to compare what went on in my parents’ era with the present day.
Baking a Christmas cake: This signalled the start of the festive season in our house and I loved it because, after helping with stirring the mixture with a wooden spoon, I got to lick the bowl. Nowadays I just buy a cake in the supermarket.
Writing Christmas cards: My mum would laboriously write out more than a hundred cards with personal messages inside to send out all over the world whereas I restrict myself to writing as few as possible.
Hanging up decorations: Back then my brothers and I would all get involved in making paper chains out of multi-coloured strips of paper and then hang them up in the hall and living room. These days I just dig out the decorations from the loft.
Making mince pies and Christmas pudding: A lot of hard work went into this and the glorious aroma coming from the kitchen was something to behold but – just like the Christmas cake – it’s a lot easier buying them from the shop.
Sticking up advent calendars: These could be ones we made at school or a bought one with cute Nativity scenes behind each number. Now, of course, there’s no way an advent calendar finds its way into our house unless there is chocolate involved.
Marking the catalogue: This was a family tradition where we would all flick through the pages of the Littlewoods catalogue and choose a few goodies we’d hope to get for Christmas. Nowadays we’re more likely to buy our own presents for others to wrap up.
Choosing TV favourites: Again, we’d all get involved in this and scour the Radio Times and TV Times armed with a pen to circle the programmes we wanted to watch. The bankers were The Morecambe and Wise Show and Top of the Pops. Never going to happen these days.
Still, I reckon I’m off the naughty list for the other things the friendly ghost brought to my attention.
We have always done the real tree, turkey with all the trimmings, board games, Christmas tunes and festive drinks.
The games, music and drinks may have evolved over the years – let’s face it, who drinks Campari or Advocaat these days – but the sentiment remains the same.
In my dream, the apparition of my mum always has a contented smile on her face when it comes to the bit about hosting family and friends at this time of year.
Now that’s the true spirit of Christmas!