Christa Ackroyd: Bitter sweet Christmas Day

It was always going to be difficult in the run up to Christmas, our first without mum.

Especially our trip to Marks and Spencer’s when we would always go together to choose a Christmas twinset, or a new dressing gown and nightie.

I didn’t look. Instead mum, I did what you taught me and counted my blessings.

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All was well, no actually it was better than that, it was lovely. Taking the little ones to see Father Christmas was magical.

You would have loved their matching red woollen coats, even though soon-to-be three year old Matilda said hers was itchy.

Even more you would have adored the look of wonder on her face when she saw ‘him’. And the look of shock on mine when she asked him for an iPad, priceless. I can imagine what you would have said to that one.

Even the baby, Margot, was enthralled when he jingled the bell on his hat for her.

And in Australia, seven year old Elise learned to play a tune on the piano ready to show us on Christmas Day.

You would have repeated you didn’t understand how technology meant we could see each other half way across the world.

Happy memories to add to the memory box. As you always said Christmas is a time for children.

It’s also the time for traditions you never let go for all of the sixty years we spent Christmas Day together. They became even more important to us this year.

Let’s start with the Party Susan. Only readers of a certain age will know what I am talking about.

Suffice it to say it’s a sectioned glass, wooden or in your case Tupperware container which only comes out once a year and is filled with exactly the same things, Quality Street, nuts and raisins, salted peanuts and Liquorice Allsorts.

There were also After Eights, a box of Turkish delight, a box of Matchmakers and a box of dates with a plastic fork that will still be with us in February, but dad liked them, so you always bought them even after he died.

Our Christmas cocktail of choice was a Snowball, the only alcoholic drink you ever half enjoyed, though the best bit was the maraschino cherry on top speared by a neon plastic sword.

Yours were brought out every year along with our homemade Christmas tree decorations and the festive robin and little plaster snowman that used to sit on top of the Christmas cake.

The Christmas menu of course started with prawn cocktail and a sauce mixed with tomato ketchup, salad cream and a dash of sherry. We all make it like that now.

No Yorkshire pudding with Christmas dinner. “You don’t need filling up on Christmas Day with all this food !”

Christmas pud with brandy custard (for a Methodist you didn’t mind cooking with alcohol, you just didn’t like the taste! ).

I have also taken over from making your Snow Queen, crushed meringue mixed with whipped double cream and another dash of brandy, frozen and taken out to defrost exactly thirty minutes before we serve it, just before the Queen’s speech.

And on the dinner table a little bunch of Christmas roses, or hellebores that you always brought with you on Christmas Day wrapped in damp kitchen roll and foil.

I grow them now, just as you did, so we’ll always have them.

Of course I wished you were with us mum, but you were so poorly when we came to see you last Christmas Day that I can’t be sad you are now at peace.

You will always be with us at Christmas and on every day in the family traditions we continue in your honour.

Just before I wrote this I read the little poem you carried in your purse after dad died.

It’s as old fashioned as our Christmases, written by one of your favourites, Joyce Grenfell.

I thought I would share it with your favourite newspaper, whose Christmas TV schedules you would have kept on the coffee table.

“Weep if you must, parting is hell.

But life goes on, so sing as well.”

We are singing loud, mum, because you would be so cross with us if we didn’t, especially at one of your favourite times of the year.

Love to you, to dad and to all those for whom Christmas will never be quite the same again. Happy Christmas.