Christmas tales 2007: our favourite writers rant, reflect and reminisce

The Christmas you'll never remember, by Peter Ho Davies

For weeks we've been exhorting you to spend, spend, spend, but now that the presents have (with any luck) been bought and the preparations are complete, it's time to ponder the deeper meaning of Christmas. We asked our favourite writers to rant, reflect or reminisce on a festive theme. As Ronald Hutton explains, the last thing you should feel at this time of year is guilty, so sit down with a mince pie and enjoy

Christmas is about memories, of course, or at least Christmas essays like this one going back to Dylan Thomas's A Child's Christmas in Wales are about memories, the warmer and fuzzier the better, like a sweater against the chill. Christmas may be for kids, that old truism, but it's also for adults and our memories of our own childhoods.

Our traditions the same meal, the same decorations, the same gifts (socks again!), the same TV (the Queen, bless 'er!) are all efforts to hold on to the past, to deny the passage of time. It's deeply reassuring that everything is the same, and we work hard to keep it that way pulling out the old decorations, struggling to make the ancient lights light, the venerable plastic tree stand straight even while complaining that Christmas isn't as good as it used to be (too commercialised, no good films on the box, no snow!).

It can't be, of course. The Christmas we remember is every Christmas, the good bits at least, the best presents (my first Action Man), the best films (The Poseidon Adventure). This Christmas can't hope to compete with all those Christmasses past.

But all this ritual, this tradition, so blurs the distinction between one year and the next that it runs the risk of blunting our more particular Christmas memories. It's the difference between memory and nostalgia the former is specific, personal; the latter, general, generic in a way that allows it to be shared.

I've been thinking about Christmas memories lately because my young son is just starting to form his. This will be his fourth Christmas but it's the first year he's started to get excited about it, to know what's coming, because he remembers last Christmas. We're staying home for the holiday this year, not travelling to assorted family as usual, because we're hoping to establish a little tradition of our own.

When I told my mother this by way of explaining why we weren't coming to my parents for Christmas she was understanding. She and my father had decided not to go to my grandmother's for Christmas when I was three or four for the same reason, she said a little piece of family history I didn't know, didn't recall. It brought home to me the strangeness of these last few Christmasses with my son very vivid ones to me, that he'll never remember, and it made me think of my grandmother, my father's mother, with whom we spent my first few Christmasses in Wales (I literally had a child's Christmas in Wales, a couple in fact, yet can't recover a single detail of them).

My grandmother came to us for Christmas one year near the end of her life, in the midst of her own struggles with memory. She had Alzheimer's and had been in a hospital for a year or two at the time. My father brought her home on Christmas Eve, and for an evening at least, she was her old self, or close to it the tree, the cards, the tinsel, all of it I think somehow filling the gaps in her mind. But the next day the magic was all used up. Those vestigial memories of Christmas melted away. In confusion, she struck out. She waved a kitchen knife in my mother's face. And some time that afternoon my father decided to drive her back to the hospital early.

He asked me to go with him for fear she might try to open a door and leap out of the moving car. It was a terrible journey, through the late afternoon darkness, and in a pouring rainstorm, made all the more dreamlike by the absence of other cars on the roads. Nearing the hospital, my father must have hit a puddle, or drifted towards the edge of the road, because a sheet of white water flared up the side of the car, and my grandmother started screaming. Like a child, I might have said before I had a child, but now I'd say more like an animal in terror. She was saying something in Welsh, which I don't speak, and only later, after my father had led her back on to the ward, and come out to the car, did he tell me that she had been screaming about seeing Jesus Christ. That she thought he'd come for her.

It was the last time my grandmother left the hospital, though she lived there another 10 years, and in a sense her last Christmas, too. Which, is why, grim as it was, I want to remember it, because it was also my last one with her. None of us remember our first Christmas; many of us won't remember our last. In between, it's easy to recall the good times, the gifts, but memory itself is a gift, even the memory of what we lose.

Peter Ho Davies is the author of 'The Welsh Girl' (Sceptre)

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
'Banksy Does New York' Film - 2014

Art Somebody is going around telling people he's Banksy - but it isn't the street artist

Arts and Entertainment
Woody Allen and Placido Domingo will work together on Puccini's Schicchi

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment
The sixteen celebrities taking part in The Jump 2015

TV

Arts and Entertainment
British author Helen Macdonald, pictured with Costa book of the year, 'H is for Hawk'
booksPanel hail Helen Macdonald's 'brilliantly written, muscular prose' in memoir of a grief-stricken daughter who became obsessed with training a goshawk
Arts and Entertainment
Tom DeLonge has announced his departure from Blink-182

music
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
In the picture: Anthony LaPaglia and Martin Freeman in 'The Eichmann Show'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Kirkbride and Bill Roache as Deirdre and Ken Barlow in Coronation Street

tvThe actress has died aged 60
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Marianne Jean-Baptiste defends Joe Miller in Broadchurch series two

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
TV
News
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
people
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Arts and Entertainment

Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated

Arts and Entertainment
Damian Lewis shooting a scene as Henry VIII in Wolf Hall
TV

Arts and Entertainment
A history of violence: ‘Angry, White and Proud’ looked at the rise of far-right groups

tv

An expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle

Arts and Entertainment

art

Lee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Keaton in the 1998 Beetlejuice original

film

Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TV

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.

    Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

    Greece elections

    In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
    Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

    Holocaust Memorial Day

    Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
    Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

    Magnetic north

    The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story
    Front National family feud? Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks

    Front National family feud?

    Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks
    Pot of gold: tasting the world’s most expensive tea

    Pot of gold

    Tasting the world’s most expensive tea
    10 best wildlife-watching experiences: From hen harriers to porpoises

    From hen harriers to porpoises: 10 best wildlife-watching experiences

    While many of Britain's birds have flown south for the winter, it's still a great time to get outside for a spot of twitching
    Nick Easter: 'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

    'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

    Nick Easter targeting World Cup place after England recall
    DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

    The inside track on France's trial of the year

    Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
    As provocative now as they ever were

    Sarah Kane season

    Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

    Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore