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Are you ready for the Holidays? Are you completely stressed out? Worrying about money and what to spend? I do hope not, I have a feeling that those of you who read this are not like that. Christmas really should be a time of peace and happiness and yet so many people dread it. I am not sure why.
As a child of divorced parents I was very spoilt at Christmas and since my father was German, where they celebrate on Christmas Eve, I was able to spend diplomatically equal time with both. Christmas Eve with Dad, with a Christmas tree far too big for his rented bed sitter, lit with many live burning candles, was magic, smelling of burnt pine needles and too many presents for a little girl. Christmas Day with Mum was more modest, but equal magic, with homemade paper chains and crackers and Christmas pudding with real sixpences in greaseproof paper in it.

Dad really went from the sublime to the ridiculous as a German Jewish refugee. He grew up in a large house in Cologne with servants – never cleaned a pair of shoes in his life, till he came to England. He ate all sorts of exotic food at Christmas and each year they would go to the Opera House to the annual performance of ‘De Fleidermaus’.

His father was one of the world’s leading Dermatologists, a Professor at Cologne University, until he was thrown out by his colleagues, keen to stay in favour with the powerful Nazis. He was convinced that the Nazis would do nothing to him and his family, given his talents and status, until he told to report to the railway station one morning, (no-one knew why).

As was his habit, my Grandfather arrived too early and was allowed to go home as there was too many for the train they were to take, a train destined for a concentration camp, as they later learned. By this time he realized that he and the family were truly in danger and they left Germany. He was a rich man, but had left it too late to get his wealth out and was only able to smuggle out a few paintings in my brave father’s suitcase and some furniture.
I don’t know much about my mother’s family Christmases. Most of the family were in the theatre and were either working at nights or touring, but it was a fairly large family and they enjoyed some happy times. Although my parents did not get along with each other, they were both wise and good people, who knew that putting the right value on the important things in life made certain events, ones to be enjoyed, but not stressed over.

One of the best Christmases I recall was when we were making ‘The Lion in Winter’. The film takes place during a few days over Christmas as a dysfunctional family, so we were well in the mood. We the actors, became like a family and unlike our characters in the story got on frighteningly well – sometimes a recipe for disaster, in terms of producing a really successful film. We only had a few days off for the real Christmas, which went by almost unnoticed. We were filming in Ireland and some of us went back to England. Peter O’Toole stayed behind as did Katharine Hepburn, who spent it with her old friend John Huston, who had a house in the West of Ireland.

When we all reported back to Dublin after Christmas, I was summoned to Katharine’s rented house for tea, where I was to collect my Christmas present. I am happy to say, that she and I got on very well, after I had got over my initial paralyzing awe of her . She told me she had bought me a rather nice cup and saucer, but that she liked it so much, that she would like to keep it and give me a pair of earrings she had received, which she would never wear. Although Phyllis, her trusted assistant, ‘tut tutted’ in slight disapproval, I was delighted to do as she suggested (I am an earring freak) and her frankness and honesty were qualitiesI loved about Kate and this was typical. So there was satisfaction all round.

Christmas has generally been a cheerful time for me, I can only recall one that I really hated due to personal unhappiness – there has to be one. So I am lucky. I will go to church as I usually try to do. I remember one wonderful shared Christmas with David Hemmings, my then current love, when we sneaked the Border Collie puppy, Jasper, he had bought me, into midnight Mass. I wish you all, my kind readers, a very Happy Christmas and for us all a better, more peaceful New Year. Jane

All content copyright Jane Merrow