Christmas thoughts and memories
From a Cathedral Town
"Ring happy bells across the snow" evokes my earliest Christmas memories. Together with the loud pealing organ and the high soaring voices of the Minster Choir. All joy! joy! joy! I lived at Southwell.
I remember the choir circumcursioning (I pinched this word from Coleridge) the village, carol singing. They trundled a harmonium around with them on some kind of trolley. It sounded wonderful in the frosty night air. No doubt they knocked on doors rattling collection boxes. I dont remember that. I remember them, men and choristers, crowding into our little kitchen to share my mothers freshly baked mince pies and a hot drink. A great honour we children felt.
The Night Visitor
Another joyous Christmas memory is Santa Claus. I still remember awaking on various Christmas mornings to find he had left, among other things, a furnished dolls house, a dapple-grey horse on wheels, a ship that floated and a wheelbarrow. There were pull-along ducks and rabbits and trucks containing building blocks, and, even a sledge with metal runners. The wonder of receiving these presents far out-did the wonder of a flying Santa having come with them down our chimney. This was before radio and TV and pressurised advertising so they just had to be from Santa.
Learning, years later, that they had all been made in great secrecy by my father (a self-taught craftsman) didnt destroy Santa Claus. I can hear him now, saying "Well, you see your mother and I thought we ought to give Santa a hand. Hes very busy at Christmas time." I know now it was not because there were four children to provide for but because my father believed Santa Claus was an adult myth, one that ought to be perpetuated. It embodied a great truth by which he himself lived. "It is better to give than to receive"
From the Shop Floor
This will be my tenth Christmas in retail and every year I think never again. Christmas in a shop has very little to do with what Christmas is really about. It begins in earnest in October with the arrival of the potential bestsellers and by Christmas Eve it is all over, for it is then, once the shop has closed that all evidence of the festive season is removed and thrown away, to be replaced by The Sale which will begin the day after Boxing Day.
These days in is an undeniable fact that for many the most significant meaning of Christmas seems to be to spend money. As part of a retail organisation I should not really complain about this, but as Promotions Manager for Dillons bookshop I am often left with the uncomfortable knowledge that my job requires me to be part of the all-engulfing commercialisation of Christmas. Often its not even as if people seem to be enjoying themselves - so many look fed-up and stressed and are frequently bad- tempered and ill-mannered; goodwill to all men is noticeably absent!
How grateful I am, therefore, to be so close to St Peters and able to escape briefly during the occasional lunch hour and reflect on the true meaning of Christmas inside its stillness and relative silence. It seems the ultimate irony that whilst Christmas is first and foremost about religion this fact is swept aside in many peoples minds. The shops heave with increasingly desperate crowds, yet churches remain quiet and comparatively untouched by our frenzied preparations.
My first memory of Christmas is when I was young and I saw the lights in Nottingham being switched on. I was so excited and that year Christmas Day could not come fast enough. When I was younger I would try to be good before Christmas so that Santa would bring me some presents on Christmas Eve. I have also got vivid memories of the crib services that I have been to on Christmas Eve at church, and I can truly say that going to the Crib Service is one of my favourite parts of Christmas, although I do enjoy the roast turkey meal and trying to guess what the presents are before ripping the paper off them!
Whats for Christmas Dinner?
When I was a small child, way back in the 1920s, I asked my mother why we didnt have a turkey like everyone else. She told me that we were having a Real Olde English dinner, which was the proper old fashioned thing to do - and I believed her! It was not until I was grown-up, not very well off and (suffering) wartime rationing that I realised how lovingly protective she had been.
My father, works manager for a local prosperous firm had been thrown out when the firm was bought out - as also happened to my younger son at precisely the same age!
I thought the Baron of Beef was splendid.Aisles and Aromas
It does not seem to matter which supermarket you go in at the moment, they all have their own versions of an instant Christmas. You can actually buy anything you may need from ready stuffed poultry to an iced cake, mince pies, crackers etc.; in fact anything you can think of they will have already thought about and placed on the shelves.
My thought of the Christmas kitchen begins in October. Then the cake, the mincemeat and puddings are made, and then the smells of Christmas cooking begin to seep through the house, to linger there in cracks and corners until December. It is spicy, warm and homely and everyone comes in to stir the pudding and make a wish. Is life really so hectic now that we cannot give the children of today some of these nostalgic memories for their future?
Round the Wards
It was cold, just as it would be at home right now, maybe snowing. Suddenly it all felt so very far away and even the sounds of carols being sung in the local church did nothing to ease the ache of wanting to be home for Christmas. Strains of Silent Night sung in Italian just seemed to make the memories of past Christmases come racing through my mind. It always seemed to be the most requested carol on many hospital wards on Christmas Eve when we would turn our capes inside out, showing the lovely scarlet linings as we went from ward to ward by candlelight singing carols. The children always tried so hard to stay awake to listen, and to ask yet again if Father Christmas really knew where they were that night. Sometimes the tears would fall from those who only wanted to be home for this very special day.
Memories - I took my cape from the back of the door, no scarlet lining this year, sang Silent Night to myself as I walked across to the wards praying that it would be just that - a silent night, a peaceful night for all no matter where they were. Home was really only a thought away.
Down Under - at home and away
In Australia Christmas falls towards the beginning of the long summer holiday season, and the weather is usually warm to hot. Not for us the prospect of a white Christmas, though you would be amazed at the number of our Christmas cards and decorations which are wintry in theme.
As a small girl growing up in Sydney, Christmas meant visiting my grandparents farm at Wilberforce and enjoying feasts of in-season water melons, grapes and sweet corn. The mid-day Christmas meal was always traditional with turkey and hot plum pudding - eaten on the airy back veranda when the outside temperature was often well over 90ºF.
In 1952, both my husband and I came separately to Canberra for our first jobs, and have stayed on. There were fewer than 25,000 people when we arrived and this number has now grown to over 300,000. People have come to Canberra from all states, often leaving families a long distance away. Because Christmas is a time for family gatherings in Australia as elsewhere, many Canberra folk use the Christmas holiday break to travel back to see parents and other family members. This exodus makes it difficult to find sufficient regular people in Canberra at Christmas to do all the things that must be done.
Until recently, I was Choir Director at the parish church of St John the Baptist, Reid. Frank Riley visited St Johns in 1994 and wrote about it in the St. Peters Magazine. The church is atypical of Canberra architecture as it was built in 1841 for the local farming settlement before the site was chosen for our national capital. Like other Canberra churches, we have to schedule our Carol Service a week or so before Christmas while all Choristers are still in town. Despite this difficulty we still manage to have Choral Eucharist at 9 pm and 11.30 pm on Christmas Eve as well as similar services on Christmas Day.Down Under - among the neighbours
An Aussie Christmas brings visions of sitting down to Christmas lunch under a cloudless sky, on Bondi Beach... sorry to disappoint you - not everybody wants to spend Christmas lunch wiping sand, seaweed and suntan oil off their turkey! And I seem to remember a lot of Christmas Days when it rained! But it was still very hot (+85) and very humid. David Jones (the city department store) would have staff singing carols, and snow would appear on everything!
My family Christmas started each year in mid November when my father would closet himself in the kitchen for the day and make four large Christmas cakes. Then on "Stir Up Sunday" we would all take part in the making of the Christmas pudding, having a stir and making a wish.
On Christmas Eve there would be a dawn visit to the Sydney fish market to buy our Christmas Eve supper of lobsters, prawns and oysters. Christmas Lunch was cold meat and salads (cooked and made on Christmas Eve), and always followed by the vision that was my mother, emerging red faced but triumphant from the kitchen, bearing aloft the flaming Christmas pudding!
Boxing Day would be spent on the Harbour, watching the start of the Sydney-Hobart yacht race - a spectacle never to be forgotten, with the sails of the yachts echoing the sails of the Opera House.
Until fairly recently Australian Christmas cards still portrayed Dickensian snow scenes, with lots of robins and holly... now Ayres Rock is depicted as the pudding, topped with brandy sauce and a piece of holly! and Santas sleigh is pulled by kangaroos with him resplendent in natty red T-shirt and matching shorts!