4. Reading the Christmas TV schedules on Christmas Eve. We didn’t take a listings magazine, but even the local newspaper, simple black and white rag that it was, had Christmas images like snowflakes and stars on the listings pages for the three principal days of Christmas. Christmas Eve was the first, and so it signalled the final lap on the journey to Christmas Day.
3. Smelling the turkey cooking on Christmas morning. My mother often cooked it slowly overnight and the ground floor of the house was filled with its aroma on coming downstairs in the morning. Turkey was a once a year treat, and so the smell cried a resounding Christmas is Here.
2. Waking up on Christmas morning and rising anxiously to see whether Santa Claus had visited and left a sack of presents at the foot of the bed. He always had. To a child from a poor background who received virtually no gifts through the rest of the year – apart from one or two on my birthday – that was about as exciting as life could get.
1. My mother used to clear a space for the Christmas tree and cover it with cotton wool to represent snow, and then carefully arrange a tableau of plastic reindeer, fir trees, a Santa Claus on a sleigh, and a cottage under the tree. It was as fine a landscape as you could wish to see, and I liked nothing better after dark than to turn off the room lamps and see it lit by only the multi-coloured tree lights. I would look at it for ages, and feel a thrill stirring inside which I could never explain. Looking back on it now, I realise that it was quite unlike the other aspects of Christmas. They were all about simple sensory input and the pleasure of acquisition. This was about visual input going deeper and triggering something abstract and profound. That was what made it magical, and that’s why it’s number 1.