We were never part of ‘Brand’ Christmas. From miserable homes lacking in festive decoration, to the complete absence of Christmas spirit directed our way in the surrounding area, as we trod the miserable path towards school each morning.
The 1960’s Christmas experience was always an appalling time of year for a kid in care. It all started the day after bonfire night, when people refocussed their attention to the upcoming festive period. It was roughly six to eight weeks of abject misery, as everyone in the world seemed to be infused with a rapidly rising state of happiness and euphoria, that never seemed to include those kids who lived in the home up the road. There was a subtle transition in television advertising, as the fireworks adverts that had plagued you for the previous month, slowly faded into their annual hibernation, as they were usurped by a new batch of advertising ranging from the delight of the food that could now be had and stored away in pantries across the country, to the latest and greatest toys that were widely available to buy, and all as a means of demonstrating to all those who cared, that you were one of the good parents, with the good kids, from a good home, who deserved a good Christmas.
But in the build-up, we were never classed as one of the good kids, from a good home, who deserved a good Christmas. The television advertising was never directed at us. We were never part of ‘Brand’ Christmas. From miserable homes lacking in festive decoration, to the complete absence of Christmas spirit directed our way in the surrounding area, as we trod the miserable path towards school each morning. Christmas was always for the other kids. They revelled in the build-up. It was them and their friends, and we always seemed to be excluded, because mummy and daddy had always informed them that the kids from the home were bad kids, and nothing good could ever come from knowing them. They were kids that were better avoided, especially if you wanted Santa to call with that extra special present you had whined about for months.
So, we grouped ourselves together and huddled in corners. Adrift from their childishly eager anticipation of the festivities to come while planning our own means of simply surviving the fortnight absence from the sometimes and somewhat fleeting safety of school, as we pondered what it was that we had ever done wrong to find ourselves so side-lined by society, and absent of care. Ours were Christmases lacking in families, lacking in friends, lacking in warmth and comfort and the knowledge that somebody really did care. They were lonely times, when the excitement of rising on Christmas day, was nothing more than relief one had survived the night without being attacked in our beds by another child or a member of staff, and that regardless of the day of the week, there was a good chance that we would get real meat for dinner, if for no other reason than the duty staff had a burning desire to normalise their own Christmas day, having been lumped with the wrong side of the work roster.
The disappointment of Christmas day was only usurped by the return to school in the New Year. In a time, notable for being pre-social media and mobile phones, this was the very moment that every child got to brag about the great presents they had found resting at the bottom of their beds on the big day. A cast iron validation of their goodness, as Santa, that mysterious, white-bearded fat guy who spent the majority of the year in some frozen state of hibernation, rising only in early December to plot his next trans-global expedition, had left them all they had asked for, all they could ever have wanted, and a whole lot more besides. And what better moment to confirm in one’s own mind that the kids mum and dad had warned were bad, were in fact clearly very bad, as they stood their bereft of festive discussion trivia and with nothing to justly brag about on the presents front.
For them, Christmas had been a very miserly affair. One that reflected their nefarious status in the eyes of many. A few cheap meaningless toys had for reasons unknown or explained, apparently been left in the staff room, and would by Boxing Day be consigned to a communal toy cupboard bereft of real ownership and destined to be broken by the time ‘normal’ families were ushering in the new year, sat amongst beaming family and friends. Santa hadn’t even dared troll the darkened corridors of the children’s home, as it appeared that he too had been warned about the awful children who lived there. By all accounts, it was a concession of his, that he had deemed us worthy enough to receive a gift between twelve or more. But it would be a long time before we would experience a Christmas worth remembering, and by that time, most of us would be adults.