Raffaella Barker: A walk in the snow

"Christmas is coming and the geese are getting fat / Please to put a penny in the old man's hat / If you haven't got a penny, a ha' penny will do / If you haven't got a ha'penny then God bless you."

This rhyme, relegated to the bottom of my Christmas stocking of memories, is suddenly current this year, and it will be a Christmas again like the ones in my childhood. It was the stricken 1970s, the recipe book of the day was The Pauper's Cook Book, and in my family, where money was always short, our festivities were big on ritual and home-made decoration. I still have some interesting glitter flowers made of tights stretched over wire from that time, and they will take their place on the tree this year.

Our Christmas stockings, filled with brazil nuts, tangerines, bags of gold-covered chocolate money and topped always with a balloon, were the highlight of the day. At that time there was no such thing as the "must-have" handbag/Play-Station/iPod, or if there was, we didn't know about it. At the risk of sounding like a Monty Python sketch, our lack of cash enriched us. We may have been nerdy, and I remember wearing stripy jerseys from C&A over my favourite torn Biba velvet dress, but we were happy.

All my early memories of Christmas are fused with rhymes, bad jokes and flurries of snow, and are peopled with carol singers and fathers coming back from somewhere tough in big coats to be hugged by armfuls of happy children. These admittedly are not my own memories, but are images from the black-and-white movies my brothers and I watched on Christmas morning. This was in a hour snatched between our pre-dawn raid on the stockings and the sprawling lunch my mother, largely without assistance, created for us all in the kitchen of our ivy-clad farmhouse in Norfolk. In the days leading up to Christmas, we were all sent out to gather holly and ivy, and to quarrel over who would climb the apple tree for mistletoe. Barrowloads of greenery came into our house and we put it up to the accompaniment of the King's College choir on full volume on my father's gramophone.

I feel about 1,000 years old as I write this but I have to confess I was obsessed with the idea of snow shoes, without really knowing what they were. My aunt Finella lived a gratifying "good league hence", so every year I prayed that we could walk there on Christmas Day with snow shoes on to deliver her family's presents.

Christmas has a wonderful way of meeting our deepest dreams, if only we know where to look, and lo! in the year I was 11, magic struck. It snowed heavily, our car was stuck and we walked through the fields to my aunt's house with the basket of presents. I was breathless with anticipation as we got ready, imagining that snow shoes would appear along with sledges and ice skates and maybe even the Snow Queen, all these being vital ingredients of Christmas Past. My father who had been listening to my mutterings about the snow shoes for years, suddenly appeared at my side with two tennis racquets and a quizzical look on his face. "This I'm afraid, is the essence of the snow shoe," he said apologetically. It was a bigger let down than realising who Father Christmas really was. Obviously I rejected them, even though the alternative was my leaking wellies complete with a dead field mouse in the left one.

Walking to my aunt's house in the sunlit snowscape, my siblings and I were all bundled in bright bobble hats and scarves, our laughter echoing among the silent trees. I remember the warm glow of happiness inside me and the sense of joy that walk gave me, and it is that which is among my most enduring Christmas memories.

Once I left home, I had a couple of independent Christmasses which were very unsuccessful. The Christmas I spent on a Canary Island having eggnog and schnitzel with my boyfriend and a selection of the resident German hippies was my least favourite ever. Luckily my thoughtful mind has blocked most of the experience out, leaving me with little but a residual loathing of even the words "eggnog".

Back to the bosom of the family I scuttled as soon as my own children were born, and more rituals and family traditions seeped in to make our own version of my childhood Christmas. Divorce knocked Christmas sideways for us all for a while, and we went for the alternative hot version in Kerala, with fireworks like cartoon-bombs as presents and the smell of cardamon replacing our home scent of pine tree. Now though, we are back on course, and the things I always loved become ever more significant with the passing of the racing years.

In the end, for me, nothing beats the look of wonder on a child's face as the magic essence of Christmas breaks at dawn with a squeal of excitement and the rustle of a stocking laden with memories in the making.

'Poppyland' by Raffaella Barker is published by Headline Review

Arts and Entertainment
Wonder.land Musical by Damon Albarn

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment

Film review

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
News
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

    Africa on the menu

    Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
    10 best statement lightbulbs

    10 best statement lightbulbs

    Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
    Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

    It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
    Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

    Dustin Brown

    Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
    Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test