Why the John Lewis Christmas advert has me in tears, says Christa Ackroyd

There are not many Christmas adverts which reduce me to tears. Usually they are filled with images of tables groaning with far too much food or presents, toys in particular, that are often the latest fad, the absolute must haves that none of us really need, many can’t afford, but simply desire.
Christa AckroydChrista Ackroyd
Christa Ackroyd

But one has got to me this year, because it reminded us all, or it should do, of the true meaning of Christmas. And of those less fortunate than ourselves.

The John Lewis advert is eagerly awaited by many, myself included. It seems to herald the start of Christmas and usually raises a smile.

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From bouncing dogs on trampolines to lonely pensioners in space receiving gifts from strangers. It is of course there to persuade us to buy from their stores, which may I add are a welcome constant in our decimated high streets when so many well known names have disappeared these past few years, leaving huge buildings empty and unloved and many preferring to do their shopping online. Shopping online can never invoke the same festive feeling as the dash around town for those last minute bits and pieces when the Christmas lights are up and the Salvation Army band is playing.

This year’s John Lewis advert hit home like a sack of Santa’s toys hitting the floor. For me it felt personal. And yes it made me cry, though they were tears of gratitude.

For those who haven’t seen it ( and I know most of you will have done by now ) it features a man, perhaps in his early forties, trying to learn how to skateboard while his wife trims up the house for Christmas. He fails and falls time and time again. He is bruised and battered but still he continues. His wife and he admit they are nervous and then we find out why when a little girl, maybe 9 or 10 , called Ellie is brought to their door carrying a skateboard presumably by a social worker.

The couple are fostering her for Christmas. Then comes the message which is so so shocking and so, so personal to me that there are 108,000 children in care in this country, children who all need love. And children who for the most will not be with family this Christmas.

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I was ten days old when I was adopted so I never knew a Christmas without family. I was never left to wonder why I had been wrenched from my home to spend a Christmas feeling alone and unloved. Or in the homes of strangers.

But that is why looking back makes my Christmases past so special. Because I never felt a day without love at Christmas. They were simple times. Every year in December dad brought the battered Christmas tree down from the loft and a suitcase of Christmas decorations that were used year after year.

Not for us the beautifully matched perfectly placed baubles in the latest colour combinations. Myself and my brother trimmed the tree, probably badly, cramming it unevenly with the same decorations we had always used. Each one told a story, from the beautiful fragile glass spirals inherited from my great grandmother to the home made cotton wool snowmen crafted by us as children in nursery.

They were odd, mismatched and gaudy. The tree was laden with tinsel, the more the merrier, and the same multi coloured Christmas lights that always seemed to work with the twist of a loosened bulb.

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As the Christmas cards arrived, and there were always well over a hundred, they were stuck on the glass sliding doors that separated the dining room from the ‘best’ room with sellotape.

We licked coloured circles to make paper chains and cut out angels from old newspapers to hang around the room along with those fold up tissue paper shapes that magically turned into frilly bells or pompoms once unfolded. Mum started making the Christmas cakes in October, writing her Christmas card list in November, home made mince pies were on the menu from December and dad and I went to fetch the Christmas turkey every year the week before Christmas from Uncle Lance who reared them for all the family in North Yorkshire.

And every year we went Carol singing in our neighbourhood and to Christmas concerts and if we were lucky, the pantomime at the Alhambra in Bradford.

But we didn’t have stockings hung by the fire, which was by the way a three bar electric one. We had a pillow case laid at the foot of our bed on Christmas Eve. And when Santa arrived after us being nearly sick with excitement laying out the carrot, mince pie and a glass of sherry, we didn’t have heaps and heaps of presents. What’s more they were almost the same each year.

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One big present asked for from Father Christmas after visiting the grotto at Busby’s, an annual, Bunty for Me, Dennis the Menace for Brian, a book, maybe a game and always a selection box, an apple and an orange and a few shiny new pennies.

Christmas dinner with family was just that, one meal cooked simply by mum in the kitchen as we lay the table with the best china. Two way family favourites on the radio after a Church service, a turkey and the trimmings and Christmas pudding before the Queen’s speech.

A ham for boxing day, a Party Susan filled with nuts and Neapolitan chocolate, a box of Christmas dates and a bowl of walnuts to be cracked with the nutcrackers.

Simple, indulgent yes, but not by today’s standards. And it was perfect. Because it was filled with love and tradition and above all continuity.

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Because that is what is missing from the lives of those in care. And that is what matters. I know many people who are adopted or who have adopted children, many after they have been in care. I know many who foster and open their doors and their hearts to children damaged by separation and trauma. It is to them that I want to say thank you from one whose life at Christmas and indeed every day could have been so different. I was the lucky one and for that I will be forever grateful.

You can forget all your expensive toys and gifts, you can forget all your groaning tables of food enough for a week, and your fancy dinners booked at hotels and restaurants, love is what Christmas is about.

So thank you for all the Christmases past to my late mum and dad, thank you for the family that I have shared so many happy Christmases with, and yes, thank you to a company who made an advert that reminds us that so many are not so fortunate as I was to be able to remember that Christmas maybe all about giving, but most of all it is about giving love. And feeling loved.