Reg, that stunning paragon of Yuletide virtue, came in at last with the blessed coffee, trailed by Will, who had chosen to eat a candy-cane for breakfast. It stuck out of his mouth at a jaunty angle. In his one arm he clutched his stocking, under the other he held Withnail (the cat-of-long-suffering), the arm looped around Withnail's rear, with his front half dangling, reaching desperately for the floor. With an amused look, I was informed by Reg that the dog, Sasha, had already opened her stocking, which explained the odd crunching noise coming from under our bed.
The Opening Of The Stockings is the first of several time-honored Christmas traditions, which started with watching the Muppet Christmas Carol the night before, the kids singing along to the songs and me quietly hiding my tears every few scenes. Christmas morning begins at an ungodly hour with the stockings on the bed, filled with candies and tiny toys, clementines and almonds. Annie is pure unfettered id, living only in the moment. She likes to pull everything out as fast as she can, spreading it in her corner of the bed, finding the thing she likes best and the fawning over it as much as possible. This year it was a pink sparkly cat comb that she immediately used on everyone but me- I was given a long, appraising look before she declared dramatically "I'm sorry, Father, but there is no hope for you. That hair... my comb is too late!" I took this pronouncement with as much dignity as I could. Will is very imaginative, living entirely in his own world, as grave and serious as a five year old can be. After handing the traumatized cat off to Reg, Will had pulled a Sleeply LaGoof, slowly taking out the candy cane and placing it beside him on the bed, leaving a pinkish stain on my duvet. Setting his Bolt toy over it as a guard, he carefully and slowly pulled out each item with a contemplative smile on his face. He likes to arrange them in some arcane order, occasionally showing something to Bolt for approval. Even when his sister tried to tame his unruly mop of brown hair, he kept to his task until he was satisfied.
By the time he was finished, Annie's attention had already switched tracks. She had first tried to open Sasha's stocking, but the dog could not be persuaded to climb out and relinquish her new bone, so she had turned her focus to Withnail, showing him his new catnip mouse and explaining to him in a rapid-fire stream of instructions about how he was to make sure this mouse lasted and stayed clean and so on. Withnail endured this with the same look of horrified panic and wounded pride with which he seems to go through life, the poor fellow. Soon enough, Annie's 'beans' and Will's attempt to use his wet candy cane to draw drove us out of the bedroom and downstairs, to commence the wrapping paper massacre once more. Soon the ground floor was littered with scraps of paper as Annie and Sasha struggled to outdo one another as agents of chaos. Annie feels that she has to emulate cartoon shows and reduce any wrapping paper to confetti, while all the revelry over-excites the dog, who is liable to grab wrapping paper debris and tear around the house, shredding it in the process. Eventually we end up on the couch, Reg and I side by side, Will on Reg's lap, Annie exerting her independence by curling up with some Barbies in the big armchair. As always, we sit down to watch Pee-Wee's Christmas Special, long on a dying VHS and recently and poorly transfered to DVD. We eat it with waffles, the only thing that Reg does better than I and, thus, the only time in which he is allowed to work in my hallowed kitchen unsupervised. We start later than usual- Will needs to make sure that both Bolt and his new teddy bear Ambrosias II (his predecessor having had an unfortunate encounter with Sasha six months ago) have a good view of the TV. As always, Reg and I argue over wether-or-not k.d. lang could have worn an uglier outfit, and I again declare it my life-long dream to have Frankie Avalon as my personal Christmas Card Slave. As always, watching this will make Reg throughout the day suddenly exclaim "Now all it needs is Charo!" to the general bewilderment of anyone around him. And again, as always, the end of Pee-Wee heralds the oncoming cold- getting dressed, bundling up and setting out for Christmas Day at Nana Gougère's- or Red Nana, as the children insist on calling her, in order to distinguish her from Grey Nana, Reg's mother. I will not go into too much detail here, as mother's post-Christmas Column is inevitably devoted to her yearly Christmas menagerie of relatives. Like every year, my mother commanded the sea of people with Pattonesque flair, her wooden spoon a riding crop as she barked orders, directed people around and tried to make order out of madness. Cousin Arthur's drunken carols at the piano were inappropriate for everyone (Darlene left him again), and Grandma Gougère has only gotten more cantankerous with age, until she espies her great-grandchildren, who seem to make her melt like hot butter.
The children are finally asleep, their fingers inexplicably still sticky from sweets. They were so buzzed from the sugar high that it took almost an hour of my sister reading them bedtime stories before they calmed down- thank God for Mairia Kalman. I hear the siren song of my childhood bed calling out to me, so I will draw this column to a close.
I hope you all had the most Merry of Christmases, and will have a very happy New Year.
I remain, as always,