Christmas past, present and future

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I will honour Christmas in my heart and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach!’

So says Scrooge at the climax of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.

And while few of us have been visited by festive ghouls in the night, December is a time where we reflect on the Christmases in our past, plan for the one just around the corner and wonder what next Christmas will bring.

Everyone has their favourite Christmas song, film or tradition, each conjuring a memory personal to us.

Dr Oliver Gruner, 32, from Portsmouth is a lecturer in visual culture and has devoted much of his work to the study of nostalgia.

He says: ‘Nostalgia itself is a yearning for a simpler time, an imagined past, a longing for one’s childhood, a longing for rituals and continuity.

‘Christmas allows us to return to our families and loved ones and do the same rituals each year.

‘For example, we sit around the television and watch the same TV shows each year.

‘I have heard people talking about how they’ve watched the Morecambe and Wise Christmas specials year in year out.’

South Today presenter Sally Taylor, 57, recalls: ‘A Christmas tradition we had was a stocking to open on Christmas morning. But we couldn’t open any big presents until after lunch and lunchtime was just so long – it started at about 1 o’clock and finished at 3.

As kids we were like ‘‘when can we open our presents?’’

‘I just remember my father being asleep and my mother as well while we sat around the tree opening presents at about 5 or 6 o’clock.’

Food and board games also play a part in Sally’s yuletide memories.

She says: ‘We always had this joke in my family. My mother was a fantastic cook and she used to make this gorgeous yule log – it was so gooey and sticky and chocolatey so we all used to fight over the end piece which had the most icing.

‘That joke has gone on for the past 25 years.

‘Every single year my Uncle Ray would send us the new board game. In our loft we had boxes of these board games, and whatever game we got that year we would play on Christmas afternoon.

‘We had some of the weirdest and most wonderful games you can imagine. One that comes to mind was called Totopoly, it was all about horse racing and betting – not particularly PC! It was quite big in our family.’

Blue singer Antony Costa, 33, is playing the title role in Aladdin at the Kings Theatre, Southsea. Christmas for him means one thing – family.

‘I think being part of a Mediterranean family, Christmas has always been very family-orientated. One year everyone would come round my parent’s house for Christmas Day, the next year we would be round my aunties, and then the year after we might go to my gran’s.

‘Christmas is a massive party and we always make a big hoo-hah about it. I love being surrounded by my loved ones.’

One year, a young Antony had an unusual Christmas.

‘I remember one year we were in Cyprus for Christmas and it was like 19 degrees, it was boiling.

‘All my friends back in England were covered in snow and eating turkey and stuffing, and I was sat on the beach having a barbecue. That brings back a lot of memories.

‘Last year we all spent Christmas Day together at my mum and dad’s house so there were like 12 or 13 of us in the house. It was such a laugh.

‘That is what Christmas is all about, forgetting the troubles outside and enjoying yourself.’

Part of the fun was getting out the board games – the old classics and a more recent addition to the canon.

Antony says: ‘You have got your charades, that’s a good one. We did The Chase - that is an important game to play, I’m telling you. I’m obsessed with the programme, so for me it was fantastic.

‘Trivial Pursuit is another one – not Monopoly, that is a bit too clever for me. It is a game that all families play, however old or young you are you can join in.’

Antony may be bestknown for his hits with Blue, but his own music collection includes some festive hits.

‘Oh Christmas songs – I love Christmas songs. That is my guilty pleasure. It is nice when you are going around the shopping centres and it is playing Let It Snow or more recent songs like Do They Know It’s Christmas? It brings people together.’

In Dr Gruner’s case, the thing that makes him feel Christmassy is watching familiar films.

He says: ‘I try and watch the same films at Christmas, ones like Home Alone and Die Hard.

‘I like to see films I have seen before – it is a ritual where I can escape for a while and get away from the stresses of work.

‘There are also rituals we do every year as a family – like having a Christmas sing-along. These are the things that make me feel nostalgic for Christmas.’

He adds: ‘I think to an extent it gives people a sense of community, to see people they have not seen for a while, feeling attached, feeling connected to your family and friends.

‘Nostalgia could be seen as a good thing in this light, but we should remember the over-commercialisation and focus on buying is not so good.

‘Nostalgia is an industry now, where time periods and childhood experiences are sold back to us.

‘For example, the sharing of Christmas presents could be seen as a commercialised form of nostalgia.

‘I research into nostalgia of the 1960s and what we are presented with now is a simplified version of that era – hippies and the Beatles. There is an obession culturally at the moment with retro and kitsch.’

This can be seen in the sentimental Christmas adverts that have become a phenomenon in recent years.

He says: ‘I certainly find it interesting that the latest John Lewis Christmas advert has become an event: the build-up, the release of the advert and the discussion after it. It has become so central to the discussion of Christmas that it shows how commercialised it has become.’

This years the Sainsbury’s advert, which depicts the Christmas Truce of 1914, is a different kind of commercialisation of Christmas.

Dr Gruner says: ‘There are some problems with any kind of traumatic event being used to sell products.

‘That is quite a prominent example of nostalgia being used to rewrite history. The hyper-cynical view of nostalgia as filtering the past, sanitising the past, creating a past that incites a buying mood but doesn’t offer any serious kind of engagement with history – it doesn’t necessarily feel like it is a good thing.’

When it comes to this Christmas, Sally’s plans revolve around a trio of unusual festive feasts.

She says: ‘Because some of my family are European, and by that I mean not English, we tend to have a very big dinner on Christmas Eve, eating special foods like seafood.

‘Some of my family are Dutch so we have things like smoked eel, and other dishes from Germany and Holland.

‘One favourite of mine is Kuchen, which are little chocolate gingerbreads. They are absolutely gorgeous.

‘The weird thing is often we do not do the traditional Christmas dinner on Christmas Day. Sometimes we have a barbecue with just the immediate family.

‘Some years we have been known to stand outside in the snow with hats and gloves on while we cook.

‘On Boxing Day we then do the turkey and all the trimmings with the rest of the family. This year we are doing it the weekend after Christmas.

‘I don’t eat meat, but I do eat fish, so I will probably have scallops, oysters or lobster – something different.’