Christmas Day? Groundhog Day? I can’t tell the difference | Deborah Orr

Just because your children have left home doesnt mean they dont want a traditional Christmas just like the ones they used to know

One Sunday evening in late November, I popped in at the house of a couple I know, on a caprice. At that phase, hard as it now is to believe, I had scarcely registered Christmas was coming. My friends had, though. Marion lets call her had a large piling of colorful sundries to the left of her on the table she sat at, and four equally big heaps of small gold-and-white parcels, beautifully wrap and be-ribboned, ranged across the back of the table. Bob lets call him was emptying the tumble dryer and folding the clothes, I felt instead pointedly.

Oh my God, I said, as anyone would. What on ground are you doing?

Oh, simply get the stockings done for the children, replied Marion. Part of me knew that this was really quite eccentric. Component of me felt like The Worst Mother In The World.

At which phase Bob interceded. We dont have any kids, Marion. They are all adults. And even when they were children, there were only three of them. Theyve already amassed about 90 Christmases of stocking-fillers between them. A lot of them are still up there in the bedrooms they havent used for up to a decade.

Oh come on, Bob, said Marion, I cant merely dedicate our children stockings and not give one to Ursula. Lets call her. Ursula, Im told, is the eldest childs new girlfriend. Shes from Australia and isnt going home for Christmas, so shes coming too. Ursula is 32.

Weve merely satisfied her once, for five minutes, says Bob, aggressively tucking gussets under his chin and folding pants.

Oh , nobody use actual stockings, do they? Photo: Stephen Swintek/ Getty Images

Ultra-hypersensitive as I am, I see some marital tension. Mindful of the fact that in a few weeks Ill be putting together some hasty, desultory, borderline-insulting stocking-fillers myself, I decide to side with Bob. Youll have trouble fitting that plenty into stockings anyway, Marion. That lot would do for an entire orphanage.

Oh , nobody employs actual stockings, do they? Marion counters breezily. We use pillowcases, of course. Look. Ive got these red cloth ones. Marion smooths one out on the table, and starts inscribing the eldest children name very neatly on the first red flannel pillowcase. This is particularly uncomfortable for me as, yes, I actually do use stockings, quite small ones.

Anyway, Bob and I gaze in horrified wonder as Marion carefully inks all four giant pillowcases, then we implore her to stop and we drink a bottle of wine between us in 20 minutes flat. I wander home in a daze, recurring to myself again and again: You are the normal one, you are the normal one Jesus, one of those kids is a barrister. By the time I get home, Ive managed to forget once again that Christmas, at this phase, needs to be thought about at all.

Yet, Ive had cause to recall that scene time and time again, as Christmas has snuck closer. Its my first Christmas with a child who has reached adulthood, and a lot of my friends are in a similar posture. We have all been amazed be recognised that, despite leaving home, all of them seem to want exactly the same Christmas as theyve always had.

When I posted the obligatory Christmas tree snap on Instagram, my 19 -year-old reacted immediately from far-off Salford with: You decorated the tree WITHOUT ME !!! I swear that its at least a decade since he did anything other than sit around looking borne, saying hell flush out a multi-plug in a minute and occasionally remarking, querulously, something like: Wheres that Santa I constructed in year three?

The tree, in fact, seems to be a particular issue. One friend reported: I mentioned to Frankie that, because wed be away for Christmas I believed, I wouldnt bother with a tree. Her face fell. This mother subsequently emailed me a photograph of a very tall, very beautiful, very stylish tree, covered in sparkly white decorations, simply to let me know shed fully surrendered.

Or there was: I asked the children whether they thought we should just get an artificial tree this year and they entirely freaked out.

And: I told Bert I thought wed only have a little tree this year and youd suppose Id merely told him I had cancer. Even my friend who actually does have cancer got short shrift from the family when she suggested that maybe the tree was something that, just for this rather difficult year, could perhaps be managed without. They did concede that they could probably organise it themselves merely for this year provided instructions were given.

In essence, Marion was absolutely right, if a little previous, while Bob and I were totally wrong. All I can say to parents looking forward to their first Christmas with a sentient toddler is this: take care that you dont get too carried away. The Christmas you make for your little one this year is likely to be the Christmas you will be making for your little one until youre so old that someone has to cut your turkey up and feed it to you.

Seasons greets. For ever .

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