When the children were young, we lived in a big 3 storey house in the UK, but as a single parent of 4, we were poor as church mice. Being French, Christmas was celebrated on Christmas Eve but we'd start a few days before that by getting the biggest Christmas tree that we could afford. We then spent many hours making Christmas decorations: pine cones glued and glittered, baked dough stars and balls painted and ribboned, match boxes wrapped in colourful paper tied with pretty sting, paper chains, all to hang in the tree.
On Christmas Eve's day, the kitchen was a buzz of activity from early on. Cooking was taking place in a grand scale with all hands on deck and a lot of fun. I can still remember the feel of excitement in the air mingled with the beautiful smells and the laughter. By 8.00pm, we would all sit around a large decorated table and enjoy the most traditional of Christmas dinner with all the trimmings - Christmas crackers and party poppers were in abundance. But as enjoyable as all that, we were all looking forward to the next part of the evening. After clearing the table, we turned all the lights off in the house except for the Christmas tree lights and started a game of hide and seek throughout the big darkened house. You can't imagine the fun we had as over the years the hiding places got more and more elaborate! This we did until around 11.30 when the little ones were sent to bed as:"Santa won't come if you are still up!!" Just past midnight, armed with lit candles, we would ever so gently wake them up, to tell them that Santa had been and left some presents. So we all trooped back downstairs, and opened what was only token presents: a few colouring pencils, a knitted scarf or something from the thrift shop, but it never mattered really because we'd already had so much fun! We then proceeded to have a midnight feast sitting on the floor by the open fire and then slowly, one by one, we would all fall asleep, all the kid piled up like a bunch of puppies amongst sheepskins and blankets on the floor. The next day, Christmas Day was just spent lazying about and eating whatever was left over, having visitors and making endless cups of tea.
To this day, even though my eldest son is nearly 50, he and his siblings talk about it with such fond memories.