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George Mitchell: Twas the night before Christmas

We all have our own Christmas traditions that make it a special time.
We all have our own Christmas traditions that make it a special time.

Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.

The stockings were hung by the chimney with care, in hopes that St Nicholas soon would be there.

The children were nestled all snug in their beds, while visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads…

…He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work, and filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk. And laying his finger aside of his nose, and giving a nod, up the chimney he rose.

He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle, and away they all flew like the down of a thistle.

But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight…

“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”

Beautiful, isn’t it? Gives me a huge warm glow when I read those words.

Great feedback by the way from you, my readers, when I vented my spleen back in early September about Christmas shopping being discussed on a TV phone-in show in August. All of you were in agreement. Good to hear.

As I said in that September column, Christmas should be a few days before and a few days after. Anyway, here we are, it has finally arrived. And, I’m not a killjoy! I just don’t like ‘Christmas’ in Sept/Oct.

Traditions around such events as Christmas can be nationwide, but often the best ones are family based and maybe even uniquely personal.

What have you got planned? Do you have a set routine of traditions you follow tonight and tomorrow? Present wrapping, making mince pies, special meals at a certain time? Visiting family or friends? Glass of fizz in the morning?

Do you always open your presents at the same time on Christmas Day? First thing in the morning, or before or after lunch? Some folks don’t wait till Christmas Day and open their presents on Christmas Eve. Each to their own, I guess.

Do your children have trouble keeping their presents wrapped up until Christmas Day?

I started making the Christmas Day soup yesterday, it’s been resting overnight and I’ve been stripping the bones this morning, and turning the gorgeous stock into soup. It’ll be perfect come tomorrow. To be honest, you can keep the turkey, I’d be happy with the broth and a plate of stuffing.

Once I’ve finished making this mammoth pot of soup that could feed half the street, I’ll wrap my presents this very afternoon, then turn off, switch off and relax in the evening. And I’m done with shops as of yesterday morning, won’t go near them for days. That in itself is a joy.

It’s our first Christmas without dad who died earlier this year. Firsts are always the worst they say. Definitely a different evening tonight for us. But not doom and gloom, for I hope we will share stories of Christmasses past and give thanks for many happy memories.

George and his late father raise a glass during a previous Christmastime.

As for tomorrow, the big day? After coffee and opening of presents, I’ll be in the kitchen all morning. I love it. Classic FM on playing non-stop carols and a cheeky glass of white wine to keep me going. We sit down and eat around 3.30pm, after the Queen’s speech. Of course, it won’t be this time. It will be a first for King Charles.

The ‘Kings speech’ – sounds strange, doesn’t it?

I guess you also have set plans for Boxing Day? Lina, who is Russian said to me earlier this year? Why is it called Boxing Day?

Nothing to do with Henry Cooper, I told her. It all started in the Middle Ages.

Apparently, it’s called Boxing Day because traditionally alms boxes or collection boxes in churches were opened and distributed to the poor. So, it was seen as a charitable day.

Boxing Day originated in the UK but is also celebrated in other countries. And not in just English-speaking countries such as Canada, Australia and New Zealand, but in parts of Europe, for example Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic where they class it as a second Christmas Day.

Of course, there is also the connection of Good King Wenceslas, the rich king who gave to the poor. Remember the words, ‘Good King Wenceslas looked out, on the feast of Stephan,’ ie Boxing Day.

Do we still have Boxing Day sales on the high street? I well remember years ago, friends queueing up literally all night outside high street chain shops to be first in line to grab a bargain at 9am.

Some Boxing Day sales used to be mayhem.

I never did, even as a teenager, never got my head round that one. Late evening on Christmas Day itself, going along with a flask of tea and a blanket to sit outside Marks and Spencer or Next all night in the freezing cold? No thank you very much.

I guess it doesn’t really happen now, I mean we have sales all the time, especially that awful Black Friday nonsense, which is sadly becoming a new British ‘tradition.’ Thanks America.

Traditions come and go, I guess. I remember big open-house-style parties at ours over the Christmas period. I loved them, the house jammed full of folk of all ages, from say 2pm until throwing-out time.

And as I look back, even in the 90s when our house parties seemed to be at their peak, there were no mobile phones. People talked, communicated with each other, shared stories, jokes and played party games. A big day of hustle and bustle which I adored.

Would I enjoy that today? No thank you very much. I’m not being grumpy, I just relish peace and quiet far too much these days. Twenty wild horses wouldn’t be able to drag me to a huge Boxing Day party.

When home for Christmas, I cook for the family for days on end, I enjoy it, it’s not a chore, but Boxing Day is my day off.

Irrespective of the weather, I’m up and away, usually up Bennachie. It’s been my Boxing Day tradition for a quite a few years now.

George usually heads to beautiful Bennachie on Boxing Day.

Back home late morning and my traditions continue, ie second cup of coffee and a buttery if there are any left. Hot shower, then change into my jammies. Yup, I confess…that’s me for the day, and settle down with my well-thumbed TV Times.

Oh, now that’s another tradition in itself, the TV Times, or Radio Times. I love buying the Christmas edition and spend days in advance circling with a pen all the things I plan to watch.

The rest of my Boxing Day is spent in glorious indulgence of watching old movies and eating a plate of heated up leftover food that tastes so much better than it did on Christmas Day.

What do you do with your Boxing Day leftovers? George thinks they taste even better than on Christmas Day.

If you do the Christmas Day cooking, you’ll know exactly what I mean, ie you’ve now got time to enjoy it and not fret over making sure everyone else is fed and watered.

As for our new puppy Millie, it’ll be her first Christmas. She came into our lives in the summer, and even though I’ve been away for the past few months, she still remembers me.

Millie joined the Mitchell household in the summer.

She’s a real cutie, but don’t be fooled by the butter-wouldn’t-melt photo, she’s a cheeky wee thing. Quite a handful.

However you plan to spend tonight, tomorrow and Boxing Day, make sure it’s what you want to do. Switch off, put your feet up, close the mind to all the troubles out there in the big bad world, and relax in the company of loved ones. Life is too short, don’t take what precious time we have for granted.

Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse. The stockings were hung by the chimney with care, in hopes that St Nicholas soon would be there…

Christmas Day past: A young George with his grandad.