Building up the excitement before going home for Christmas
If my upbringing was more firmly steeped in tradition than the British Royal Family, I wouldn’t be surprised. My parents hosted Halloween parties for all the kids in our lane until we were well into our university years. Every spring, my siblings and I would don our Wellingtons and traipse across muddy fields in search of the Easter Bunny. And to commemorate my mother’s North American roots, each successive golden retriever in our family has been named after a Canadian prime minister.
These family rituals have always provided a comforting sense of security, and I’ve tried hard to introduce similar celebrations in Elsa’s life (short as it has been to date), though not always with success. This past Halloween was a case in point: I had visions of throwing a huge party like those I had growing up. But in the end, late on the 31st, securing the battered pumpkin that had been relegated to the lowly post of door prop at my local Jenny Lou’s was all I could do.
Still, when it comes to Christmas I’m all set. I’ve blitzed Hongqiao Market for presents. I’ve been playing my Motown Christmas CD since April, to a point where Elsa is now a big fan of Frosty the Snowman – the Jackson 5 rendition. Now all that awaits is taking the tree out of storage – OK, it’s plastic and still stinks of smoke and booze from last year’s Christmas party, but I’m confident that some gaudy tinsel and a judicious squirt of perfume is all it needs.
Regardless of what happens, I know that any deficiency on my part will be remedied later this month when we make the holiday pilgrimage home. My parents’ tiny village nestles in a valley amidst vast swathes of remote English moorland (think idyllic snowy cottages in the opening scene of Bridget Jones’ Diary). A real tree, stockings hanging over an open fire, and, of course, Dad’s favorite easy listening cassette – Burt Bacharach’s Christmas Tunes. All these are fixtures of Christmases at home.
Every year, around 80 people swarm through the house, tucking into hastily assembled sandwiches and drinking copious amounts of my father’s sherry at our annual Village Tea Party. As Elsa is likely to be the only person besides myself under the age of 50, I am slightly concerned about the attention coming her way, having already been exposed to her manner of fending off Beijing grannies: “Don’t touch!” she snaps in response to the outstretched arms and cries of “beautiful, so lovely.” She has also perfected her head flick – presenting the back of her head to would-be admirers – with such vicious speed that I fear for her neck muscles. At least the lack of mobile phone reception in the village means I’m unlikely to have to worry about Elsa barking “No photo!” (I’m not sure the village elders would be aware of a phone’s camera function, in any case.)
With the assumption that we make it through the Village Tea without alienating half my parents’ friends, a pretty relaxing holiday is fast approaching, and I’m expecting nothing less than to gorge on mince pies and homemade chocolate brownies, sample the free Bucks Fizz at the local pub, watch The Great Escape for the millionth time and welcome the hardy carolers making their house-to-house rounds. I only hope before then that I’ll have found a way to stop Elsa from her “No singing!” response – a customary reflex to my painful attempts at music making.
Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.