By: Louise North – Principal and Head of the Senior School, Framlingham College
It starts with me making my Christmas cake in October, it moves to me buying my advent calendar in November, it then takes a life of its own in December when in my house, we are allowed to sing Christmas songs from Dec 1 and I start to think about Christmas presents. I absolutely love Christmas. I love the traditions – old and new – such as unwrapping the same tree decorations every year and going to church at midnight on Christmas Eve.
I remember my childhood Christmases as if it was yesterday, the thrill that I felt when I heard Father Christmas climbing the stairs to my attic bedroom. I remember the excitement that I felt as the heavy weight of my pillow case stuffed with presents was laid on my bed and I could hear and feel the crinkle of the wrapping paper as I moved my feet. I remember the efforts I made to keep completely still so Father Christmas would think I was still asleep as he delivered his presents to me.
When I was a kid, Christmas was spent usually at my grand-parents’ house. My siblings and me, my cousins would arrive with our presents from Father Christmas to show Granny and Grandpa. We would all have to go for a long snowy walk and then we could collapse for lunch, the Queen’s speech at 3pm would see us standing to hear the National Anthem and then more presents including Christmas Tree presents that my granny always hung from the branches. My father would fall asleep in an armchair and snore, my granny’s cigarette ash would drop into the gravy as she was stirring the pan – it still tasted great – and we would play scrabble until it was time to watch a Christmas film.
My imagination worked overtime, and now, at the age of 49, I still feel those emotions at Christmas time. FC no longer brings me a pillow case full of presents, but I look out for him nevertheless and always leave him a mince pie.
One of the thrills of Christmas, is choosing the Christmas films – and indeed deciding on the order in which we will watch them. I have some favourites:
Home Alone 2
Trains, Planes and Automobiles
These are just some of my favourite Christmas movies.
I am a sucker for a good Christmas movie – there has to be snow, there has to be hardship to overcome, maybe a bad guy or two, there has to be humour and of course, there has to be a happy ending.
Die Hard is fabulous because I love Bruce Willis with his silly white vests and his exaggerated facial expressions. The bad guy in the film is truly excellent – Hans Gruber, played by the late Alan Rickman and he has some of the best lines a bad guy can have…I just can’t repeat them in chapel!
Home Alone has some hilarious antics due to the utterly inept bad guys who attempt to break into the McAllister’s house. McCauley Culkin is a very cute little boy and it all works out right in the end.
Trading Places is a movie with Eddie Murphy in it as a con artist who switches places with a wealthy stockbroker and brings his streetwise wit and charm to bear on the stuffy men who run the company.
Planes Trains and Automobiles has to be my all time favourite.
The late great John Candy plays Del and Steve Martin plays Neal.
Del is a curtain ring salesman and Neal a successful advertising executive.
Both are travelling from New York to Chicago and due to some unfortunate circumstances, end up on a road trip together as they attempt to get home for Thanks Giving.
The movie is full of humour, absurdity, cringe worthy moments, planes are delayed, trains breakdown, their car sets on fire, they drive the wrong way down a highway, they are robbed, they lose their luggage and their wallets…
The reason it is my favourite Christmas movie however – and it makes me cry every time I watch it – is because of the relationship that develops between Neal and Del. At first Neal hates Del – he is the opposite of Neal – he is obese, clumsy, cigarette smoking, seemingly poorly educated and a curtain ring salesman. But, as the journey continues, Del’s personality – warm hearted, funny, easy to talk to, sensitive, kind, honest and vulnerable – shines through in a variety of ways. Neal realises, in spite of his initial feelings of frustration at Del’s clumsiness, revulsion at some of Del’s personal hygiene habits, despair at Del’s enjoyment of simple pleasures like country music, that Del has many wonderful characteristics that Neal himself lacks – characteristics that draw people to him, that mean people like him for who he is, warts and all. Neal has prioritised material things, a good job, a nice house above the idea of being a good human being.
It is right at the end of the movie that Neal – the guy who has a good job, a beautiful home, a family waiting for him to celebrate Thanks Giving – realises that Del has nothing, nothing other than his kindness, warmth, generosity and sensitivity. He doesn’t have any money, he doesn’t have a wife, he doesn’t have a home. Neal moves from dreading spending a single moment with Del, to inviting him home to spend Thanks Giving with him and his family.
He becomes a better human being, better than the human being he was two days before when he set out on his journey home.
Sometimes we don’t see what is right in front of us. We don’t realise, until it is too late, the value of friendship. The value that being kind, compassionate, patient and understanding can have.
We all need it. Everyone of us. We all need a kind word, a smile, some warmth, some understanding and above all, someone to laugh with.
Although it is the season of goodwill to all men and women, Christmas can be tough for many of us because it brings emotions to the fore. It brings memories of those who are no longer with us, it brings sadness about family who are living far away, whom we will miss, it brings anxiety about having to be the host and make everyone else feel happy.
So being mindful of how our loved ones and our friends might be feeling, is probably the best present we can give them. The bottom line is that presents come and go, Christmas cards get recycled, food gets eaten but it’s the people who are left, the people who make the difference. So, this Christmas remember this and give your kindness, your compassion, your forgiveness, your good humour and your patience as your biggest gift.
Have a wonderful week this week, and a wonderful Christmas when it comes.