‘When I was little, Christmas came to my rescue without fail’

In novelist Susie Boyt’s childhood, Christmas was the world as it should be, not as it was. And she still won’t hear a word against it

Christmas doesn’t bring out the sanity in me. I like total immersion. I practically stud myself with cloves. No cereal packet goes undecorated. Punchlines like Frankincense Sinatra abound. I go all out for Christmas both in theory and in practice. The Christmas tree’s branches become my autobiography, crammed with ornaments dating back 40 years. I shop with the belief that good presents transform people’s lives. Emotions come at me in rapid currents: half the year’s turnover of feelings in 10 days. If I don’t have at least tonsillitis on Boxing Day – sharp scissors at the back of the throat – there is the sense I haven’t tried.

When I was little and fretful and a bit forlorn, Christmas came to my rescue without fail. It wasn’t the world as it was but the world as it should be: the colour of things turned to the highest setting, shimmering with promise and possibilities. There were rewards for good deeds and hard times, gifts that would lighten and safeguard the future, mountains of food, on white plates with green dragons, with overeating – my weakness then – a requirement, not a crime. Chocolate money and tangerines for breakfast; pudding served with the heavenly quartet of brandy butter, cream, custard and ice-cream. My mother was a single parent to five children. Our circumstances were straitened in ordinary times. But at Christmas her best friend, Anne, and her husband intervened, taking us in and filling us up to the brim. There were towers of presents taller than I was. Donkeys called Sir Isaac and Josephine. I felt like the people on the Quality Street tin. I was so happy, the comfort and joy remaining in my system for months and months…

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