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Mama Said: Christmas makes memories... doesn't it?

Christmas and the magic of childhood memories go hand in hand, but how many specific childhood memories of Christmas Day do we actually have? Emily Martin bets it’s about three

Despite everyone’s childhood containing a full 17 separate Christmas Days, I’ll wager that your memories of their specific details can be whittled down to about three particular moments.

Which is weird, because Christmas is literally all about the moments and the memories. Creating them and then savouring them. Those special magical feelings. Cosy, warm sofa times. Noisy dinner tables, paper hats and the gunpowder snap of crackers.

It’s all wrapped up in a big red bow in your mind, but when you open it, it’s just sort of vague and twinkly. It smells like Christmas trees and things roasting. It looks like the big wall of fairy lights flickering outside John Lewis and the same movies you watch every year with your dad and now, with your own kids. Those songs. All those many, many mince pies.

Seeing your cousins again who all look a bit older and turn up with different partners from the ones they turned up with last year or new babies who stay fast asleep in carriers, in the corner, surrounded by torn scraps of wrapping paper.

My daughter has an amazing memory. She’s only 7 and sometimes she comes out with a thing that happened years ago, when she was tiny, and we’ve all completely forgotten it. “How do you remember THAT?” we say, as she beams. Proud of her abilities. But lately she’s started to forget things. And of course she has, because what adult remembers more than one thing that happened before the age of 4?

Some books we read together a thousand times when she was small, she now has no recollection of. “Don’t you remember this picture? This baby eating the fish out of the cat’s bowl picture?! You used to love it?!” And she’ll just look at me blankly. It’s gone.

She can’t remember the house we lived in until she was 4. Even though she cried when we left and made us write her name in tiny letters on the wall in her old bedroom. And some of the friends we used to meet at the park, who she went to nursery with, when I show her the Facebook pictures of them now, standing proudly by their doors in their school uniforms, she has no idea who they are.

So, when I asked her what she remembers about her seven Christmas Days so far, she said she remembers getting a ragdoll from my mum (that was two years ago) and she remembers Father Christmas leaving snowy boot prints on the carpet (that was three years ago). And as far as any further specifics go, that is literally it.

All the presents she’s opened, all the sweets she’s eaten, all the sofa snuggling we’ve done watching our favourite movies. All the running around with her cousins and the fun times we’ve master-minded for her. And there are just two tiny details which have been uploaded into her long-term storage. When she thinks of Christmas, I can tell that her mind has started to do the fuzzy, vague, big-red-bow thing.

Here are my Christmas Day memories: First, 1988. I remember coming into our living room at aged 6 and seeing, not only a shiny new bike standing there under the multicoloured tree lights, tinsel wound into its basket, but it was leant against a lovely new writing desk that had an opening lid. Two main presents! “Isn’t Father Christmas a lovely man?” I said.

Second, Christmas Day 1990. Somebody gave my mum a leatherbound diary for the incoming year. One of those 1990s power-dresser Filofaxes that 90s mums used to be well into. And my mum cried because she knew it must have been expensive and she didn’t really want it.

And third, Christmas Day 2001. My dad in charge of Christmas dinner, but treating it with the contempt he treats all cooking with. Getting the turkey out of the cellophane, straight into a tray and then slamming the bird in the oven. Not a knob of butter in sight. Not even a crumb of bacon draped across its naked back.

And that’s it. Just those three seconds is all I can specifically remember about Christmas Day in the 17 years I spent as a child. But in my mind, Christmas is huge.


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